Making the Most of Live Industry Events

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I have always believed that the most successful people in any industry are the ones who focus on consistent professional development. In fact, "grow through constant learning" is one of my company's core values.

I learn in many different ways. I read daily. I listen to podcasts while I am driving or working out. I follow thought leaders on social media. I use apps like Blinkist and TED Talks. I subscribe to relevant blogs and newsletters. All of these diverse methods of self-improvement allow me to learn different things in different ways at different times.

While all of these modalities are fantastic, I have found that — for the most effective learning — you simply can't beat a well-executed live event. Live events provide a level of energy and engagement that cannot be found anywhere else.

Since 2014, I have been presenting at every type of event you can imagine, inside and outside of our incredible industry, and each one has allowed me to build relationships with other professionals. Over the course of those years, I have seen it all. I have interacted with many attendees, as well as event coordinators. I have both asked and answered hundreds of questions. With this being the AB Show issue, I thought it might be a good time to share the top four necessities for making the most out of attending a live industry event.

Live events such as AB Show rock. They offer days filled with education, motivation, energy and excitement. Attending them is not only fun, it's one of the best investments you can make in yourself.

1. Plan ahead. So many events have so many wonderful education sessions, as well as a massive trade show. Showing up without a plan can really diminish what should be an amazing experience.

The plan starts well before the event. Assess your needs. In which areas are you struggling and with what do you need the most help? Look at the agenda and find the sessions that best fill your needs and put them in your calendar. If you are struggling with retention, pick some retention sessions. If your sales are slow, attend a sales presentation. If you are coming with your team, divide and conquer different sessions and activities, and then debrief with notes at the end of the day.

I've been a victim of trade show paranoia — show up, walk in, freak out. The sheer scale of offerings may be so extensive you don't know where to start. Approach the trade show in a similar way to the educational sessions. Think about the facility improvements you want to make or the equipment you may need and set up appointments with the appropriate vendors. If you are in the market for new software, set up appointments with all appropriate software vendors. This keeps you focused and efficient, and it allows you to accomplish your preplanned goals. I know it is cliché, but failing to plan is planning to fail.

2. Create project plans. With so many great sessions, you can easily feel overwhelmed with information. You leave the event inspired and motivated, but your head is spinning.

Make sure you schedule dedicated and uninterrupted time upon returning to your facility to create the necessary project plans to implement new systems.

Let's say you want to create a new member onboarding system. This takes time, so you need to create a complete outline on how to bring your vision to reality. The project plan should include what needs to happen, when it needs to happen and who is responsible for making it happen.

Mike Tyson had one great quote: "Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth." When you are back at your facility, post-event, you will inevitably — if only figuratively — get punched in the mouth. You'll have an issue with a member. You'll have an HR issue. You'll have to deal with an employee. There are always things that steal your momentum and stall your new initiatives. Project plans help you roll with the punches and stay on track.

3. Attend networking events. Another great benefit to live events is that they facilitate new connections. Some of the most important things I have taken away from events have been things I picked up at the hotel bar. Many of the colleagues I do business with are people I met at event socials, happy hours and parties. I used to call these people my fitness business friends — until I realized that they are actually real friends.

These types of social events are great for discussing sessions, talking about new products, and bouncing ideas off of each other. And let's not forget, they are a fun way to unwind after a long day of learning. Make sure you add networking events to your event schedule.

4. Create an immediate action plan. This is different from a project plan. A project plan is a longer-term plan to implement bigger-scale change, such as the new member onboarding program I mentioned earlier. An immediate action plan is for smaller changes that you know will make an instant difference.

Usually when I present, I will ask the audience to do this as we go along. For every session you attend, pick one or two things that you learned that you can implement right away that would have immediate impact. These are items you can usually do by yourself and that don't take a lot of time, financial resources or investment. They can be small best practices that you can easily do if you prioritize them. For example, when deciding whether or not we're going to hire someone at Stevenson Fitness, our rule is it's either a "hell yeah" or a "hell no." That is an immediate action plan. Immediate action plans guarantee that you will take action and differences will be made.

Live events such as AB Show rock. They offer days filled with education, motivation, energy and excitement. Attending them is not only fun, it's one of the best investments you can make in yourself.

The way to totally maximize your investment is to use the aforementioned four tips. Always plan ahead. Use notes of what you learned from educational sessions to create project plans. Take advantage of any of the awesome networking opportunities that events have to offer and network, network, network. Finally, identify those small action items that you can implement right away. When you focus on these four things, you get the best event bang for your buck — while ensuring that you'll continue to grow into the best fitness professional you can be.

Editor's note: Chris Stevenson will present two new topics Nov. 14 at AB Show 2019 in Orlando, Fla. — "Extraordinary Engagement: Maximizing the Member Experience" (8-9:15 a.m.) and "Stop Guessing What Your Members Want and Ask!" (4:30-5:45 p.m.).

This article originally appeared in the November | December 2019 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Four ways to maximize your industry event experience." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.


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