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How to Conference

conference vendor fair

This past dance season was crazy—overwhelming, really. But now it’s summer and that dance teacher conference in Miami is fast approaching. Better get a new bathing suit and Google all the area restaurants. This is my time—I deserve it!

Yes, a conference is your time, but what you deserve more than another sunburn is the expert advice and detailed information that will make your studio’s future awesome.
Conferences geared to studio owners and dance teachers are a great opportunity to connect with others in our industry. Event size (often hundreds of attendees) and location (usually far from your studio’s neighborhood) afford you the freedom to chat and commiserate without worrying that someone will steal your “secret sauce for success” or use your financial struggles against you.


It’s a relaxed and fun atmosphere, highlighted by the amenities of the gorgeous resort or big-time city you’re in. Certainly, enjoy it all, but remember, you’re also there to learn. Or find out answers to your business questions. Or figure out systems that will alleviate your stress. Or learn the latest marketing tips. Whatever you need right now to run and grow your business with confidence can be found at a conference.


The real trick is bringing that info home and putting it into action. That’s a skill, one that took me many years to hone. In the past 30 years I’ve probably attended two or three conferences a year, for a total of around 70 to 80 events. And yes, it takes preparation, planning, and just plain hard work to conference well. But if you absorb and use the information you need, it’s almost guaranteed that your business will move forward.

Decisions, decisions

Today there are a multitude of industry conferences offered by different organizations, with various focuses such as pedagogy, technique study, or business. When I was just starting as a studio owner, I found strength at conferences filled with cohorts who affirmed my struggles—my people, who understood me. As my business grew, I sought out info on time/wealth management and exit strategies. Then my priorities shifted and instead of out I wanted in—into the classroom!—and found events that tackled how to run a great business while also teaching. Today, I’m looking for the next great business idea for a sizable studio.

My takeaway: it’s important to know what you’re looking for and find the conference that aligns with your philosophy, needs, and goals. And what that conference is will change over time—and that’s OK!

Top priority

Well before packing your bag, ask yourself: “What is the biggest concern or issue I have, and what am I looking to solve?” Keep this answer in mind while you participate in the conference; it will focus your attention. Without it, you’ll come home with hundreds of good ideas that you can’t possibly implement—and the same unsolved problems.

Total recall

There’s a common aphorism that we forget 50 percent of what we learn within an hour of learning it, 70 percent within one day, and 90 percent within a week. This concept—which I learned at a conference—reminds me to do the hard work. Too many of us let the conference notebook gather dust on a shelf. For years I was spending hard-earned dollars attending conferences, but the info was literally out of my brain by the time I got home.

Figure out what you need to take notes. I love multiple color highlighters and colored pens and good quality writing paper. I also love to draw, and will have Post-it Super Sticky Easel Pads Amazoned to the hotel, where I will put them up on the walls and draw diagrams and ideas with Mr. Sketch scented markers, then take the best home in my suitcase.

During seminars, I also jot down ideas on colored index cards: green for finance, blue for systems, pink for staffing or HR, yellow for something to implement during the coming season, and white for anything else. I note on the card any page number that corresponds to a booklet or manual.

At the conference’s end, I stay one extra day to organize these cards and my thoughts. I’ll lay them out on the bed or the floor of my hotel room (or find a conference room with a large table) and organize them in three piles according to implementation time: quick and easy things that will take 5 minutes to achieve, those that will take 10 to 20 minutes, and long-term projects.

Before heading home I’ll complete the 5-minute pile. The rest will come with me—but won’t be forgotten. My personal operating system includes daily time for revisiting these cards. I might pull all the yellow cards and then decide which of these ideas I can implement this year, or which are the highest priority. 

Making it work

Often, the atmosphere at a conference is so upbeat that you come home ready to tear apart everything at your studio and implement new ideas—and in doing so, alarm your unsuspecting employees with seemingly endless new tasks for them to take on. Don’t do that! First, your people will go crazy; and second, some of the ideas might be best enacted as two or three-year plans.

Learn to prioritize the information you’ve collected. Here’s a good system:

  1.       Impact on the bottom line; will take a lot of time to implement.
  2.       Impact on the bottom line; can be implemented quickly.
  3.       Less impact on the bottom line; will take a lot of time.
  4.       Less impact; quick.

This exercise separates the ideas that will help your business immediately from those that might be nice but won’t bring in quick revenue (or might even create new expenses). It will make you think, “Yes, it would be nice to have a black box theater, but do I have the time and money for that right now?”, and maybe put that idea temporarily aside.

Drip ideas and improvements to your employees all year long. Make the evolution of your business a never-ending process, not something that happens for three weeks after a conference. Be sure to share the inspiration you gained at the conference with your team so everyone will be mentally prepared and excited to do the work.

Your staff

When my business was young I loved bringing my team to conferences and would foot a majority of their hotel, travel, meals, and participant fees. But I realized they needed some “skin in the game” and began asking them to pay at least 50 percent of the expense. Even still, the novelty of traveling to a conference in a fancy hotel or city remained high for them, while I didn’t feel they were learning or growing enough to justify my portion of the cost.

I discovered that if I figured out what they needed to learn, then brought an expert to my studio for a mini-workshop, it was less expensive for me and a better educational experience for them.

I will still often bring members of my leadership team to conferences. We’ll talk well in advance (not in the hallway between classes!) about who is going to attend what class or seminar, and afterward I hold them accountable by requiring each staff member to present what they learned to their colleagues at the studio—instructors will sit in on teaching strategies, my marketing team will learn new social media tactics, etc.

Bringing your employees to a conference is an investment in your business—protect it and make it pay dividends.

Networking

Conferences are special environments. The energy is pumping; you’re with your people. Don’t forget that the lecture spaces, hallways, common areas, and cafés are filled with studio owners, managers, and teachers who have faced (and perhaps triumphed over) many of the same challenges as you. Take your buffet plate and sit down with strangers—you might find just what you need (I found my best friend, who lives in Oklahoma, 10 years ago at a conference). The ability to network and learn from others is why I always stay on site even if an off-site hotel might be cheaper. The extra dollars you spend could come back to you tenfold from an idea you’d never heard!

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