I recently got back from three days in Las Vegas, where I was a speaker at the New Media Expo, aka “NMX” (formerly known as Blogworld). The New Media Expo is an annual conference aimed at new media producers — in other words, bloggers, podcasters, web video producers, etc.
This is a very long review, so if you want the short version, you can watch the video here:
The short update is: I had a great time and I made a bunch of new friends. I met people who I have read or followed online for a long time. I met authors who I admire. I met bloggers and podcasters whose content I have been consuming for years.
I will get in to a longer review of NMX in a moment. But first, a confession.
As I’ve expanded my blogging and podcasting over the past few years, I have FAILED when it came to networking in a way that would help me to increase the exposure of my online presence.
Failed. Flunked. Missed the boat. Gone up in smoke. Hit rock bottom.
I have done a piss-poor job of reaching out to with others who share a mutual goal of expanding their online presence.
I am normally a very good networker offline. By age 25, I had already worked in jobs at DreamWorks, the Clinton White House and the California Governor’s office.
I didn’t get those jobs because I’m the smartest person on the planet. I credit my ability to network and keep in touch with landing me those positions.
But for some reason, I thought I could get by with building a successful online platform without putting in the hard work.
Or to put more fine a point on it: I just didn’t think I needed to network and make connections with others, like you do in real life.
I thought that for a long time. I don’t anymore.
I now realize that no man is an island when it comes to building a brand online.
That’s why I made the decision more than a year ago to attend this conference.
The New Media Expo has been held annually or semi-annual for approximately seven years, and is the gathering place for thousands of bloggers, podcasters and new media producers.
I actually observed it from afar a year ago, when it was held in New York. I could see relationships being formed just by observing the tweets, blog posts and video reviews that came out of the show.
I knew I would like NMX and enjoy myself. That certainly came true. I had a blast.
Having said that, we don’t go into business to have a good time. We go into business to make money.
If I were only writing about how to have a good time, then I would have called this blog SmartFunRevolution.com.
That’s why I am very interested in measuring what kind of results come from this weekend. I also created a four-part formula below which you can use to measure whether a conference or other marketing activity is worthwhile for your business goals.
I have a strong belief that this weekend was well worth the time & cost, but I’m still interested in applying a formula to measure both the immediate benefits and the longer term value. That’s what I will do below if you keep reading.
OK, that’s the short version of how this weekend turned out. Here’s the longer version.
My Goals For the New Media Expo
As I said, the reason I wanted to attend the New Media Expo is that I’ve been using blogging, podcasting and social media for a number of years now, but I needed to meet others who are building an online presence like myself.
That doesn’t mean I arrived in Las Vegas with my hand outstretched, thinking what can you do for me? Quite the opposite.
I wanted to develop real, human connections. For the most part, I just tried to be myself – to be nice, show my personality and have a good time. The exact wrong approach would have been to lead with requesting something from the people I met, shortly after I had met them.
That’s why I didn’t even bring a digital recorder or video camera with me. I had thought about using the conference as an opportunity to do interviews to share on this blog.
Many, many people were doing that over the weekend – and I say more power to them.
However, I figured since it was my first visit to NMX and not many people knew me, I would hold off and ask for select interviews later, after the conference.
My secondary, but equally important, goal was to soak up all of the knowledge shared through three days of keynote sessions, breakout sessions and panels being led by some of the most savvy bloggers, podcaster and webTV producers active online today.
Always Keep Experimenting
The entire weekend was an experiment of sorts for me. I haven’t been to a conference like this before (focusing on new media, blogging and podcasting), and I haven’t spoken at a lot of conferences. Although I’ve chaired many Planning Commission meetings and appeared in court hundreds of times, I haven’t moderated a roundtable discussion with multiple speakers.
I approached this conference very differently than I have previous conferences or networking events I have attended. Here’s how I did it differently.
1. The Networking Started Long Before the Conference Began
Thanks to Twitter, I began researching and reaching out to many of the speakers and attendees at the New Media Expo long before the actual event started. I began by following other speakers and attendees on Twitter and Facebook, and visited their websites and blogs ahead of time.
I engaged them in conversation on Twitter and left comments on their blogs. As a result, I had already begun to develop a relationship with many people before I ever left home.
2. I was Active on Social Media During the Conference
It’s probably no surprise that a big element of the New Media Expo was social media. Conference speakers and attendees were talking before, during and after the conference about the conference on Facebook and Twitter using the conference’s hashtag #NMX.
It was very meta.
It was especially fun to monitor the hashtag on Facebook and Twitter as I was traveling to the conference. I would monitor others’ updates as they were tracking their own progress traveling to Las Vegas.
By the time I got to Las Vegas, I knew whose luggage had been lost (Cliff Ravenscraft’s), who was under the weather (David Risley), and who had seen snow on the mountain tops when his plane was landing in Las Vegas (Pat Flynn).
This gave me something to talk about right off the bat when I met these people for the first time that was much more engaging than your usual get-to-know-you banter. It was as if we were continuing a conversation rather than starting off from scratch.
All of this dialogue and engagement helped me to meet more people than I could have without it. I also added approximately 100 followers on Twitter over the course of the three day conference.
3. I Asked Questions in Almost Every Breakout Session
When I was in school (both college and law school), I rarely asked questions. I was the kind of student who didn’t want to expose my own knowledge gaps for fear my classmates would figure out what I didn’t know.
However, at this conference, it was totally different. I asked a question at almost every session I attended. Why? Because I had a different goal.
This wasn’t just a class like in college where your goal is to learn and pass a test. The goal was to meet people and for people to get to know me. In order for people to get to know you and for you to be truly memorable they need to see you – usually multiple times.
Therefore, I took every opportunity I had for people to see my face and get to know me a little better.
Of course, if I didn’t have a smart question I didn’t ask one. I didn’t want to come off as an idiot. The goal was to ask a savvy question that reflected well on me, as well as eliciting an answer that was valuable to the audience.
How to Measure the Effectiveness of A Conference Or Other Marketing Activity
Even though I said above that I think the conference was worth its cost, I strongly believe you should try as best as possible to measure these types of activities. Only by measuring can you figure out if the investment is worth it.
Sizing up the value of this conference is difficult, given that my primary goal was to develop long-term relationships.
Here’s how I analyze whether a conference or other live event was worthwhile. I use this formula with my clients:
1. Costs (Including hard and soft costs)
As a speaker, I saved the cost of the price of admission. If I had walked up the day of the conference, I would have paid $1,000 for the all-access ticket I received.
I missed two days of work, a Monday and a Tuesday. Fortunately, the conference was in early January, which is traditionally a pretty slow time of the year for my business. If it was a busier time of year, I could have been out over $1,000 each day.
Here are the real costs I did incur:
- 1 Roundtrip Flight on Southwest from OAK to LAS: $150
- 4 Days parking at Oakland airport: $32
- 3 Nights at Rio Hotel (discounted rate): $340
- Meals, drinks (lunch was covered for speakers each day): $100
The total out of pocket cost was about $600. Or at the most $3,000 if I had been working all of both weekdays I was away from work.
2. Immediate Benefits
Here are a few of the immediate tangible benefits of the weekend:
- I met at least 100 people over the course of the conference, many of whom I have admired, read, watched, or followed over the years.
- I got 3 days of education about new media, blogging, podcasting, mobile, and web TV. These sessions were led by some of the most well respected leaders in their fields.
- I can boast that I was a speaker at the New Media Expo and use their logo on my site, which is impressive and will help to establish my credibility with other new media producers and clients.
- Inspiration – I went to one book signing with blogger/entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau last summer – where he talked about similar themes – and was inspired for weeks afterwards. Imagine what this 3-day weekend will do.
I also got a few perks as a speaker: I get access to the Virtual Ticket, which includes audio from all of the breakout sessions I wasn’t able to attend. By the time I’m done, I will have the equivalent of an MBA in New Media.
Considering there were sometimes six breakout sessions running simultaneously, this is a substantial benefit. Listening to all of this audio will take me a few weeks.
But the biggest value of the conference in my opinion was everyone I met. Which leads me to…
Every conference – no matter the topic – has some component of networking. In my mind, this was the #1 value of this conference.
I met dozens of people who are using blogging, podcasting, and web video to expand their own businesses, personal brands and give back.
Many of these folks had incredible personal stories, including:
- Dino Dogan , founder of Triberr, whose standing room-only and profanity-laced presentation on how to get people fanatically addicted to you was a highlight of the conference.
- Pat Flynn, who was laid off from his architecture job in 2008, then leveraged a website focused on passing the LEED architecture exam into a six-figure income showing others how to make passive income in an honest and ethical way.
- Jaime Tardy, who was a business coach in a small town in Maine. Her then-boss didn’t understand the value of Jaime investing time in blogging. She left, and now her Eventual Millionaire blog has helped her career take off and even just landed her a book deal.
- Chris Ducker, a British ex-pat living in the Philippines who has built three companies employing approximately 300 people. (He was also one of the coolest, must fun characters at the conference.)
- Amy Porterfield and Andrea Vahl, co-authors (with Phyllis Khare) of Facebook Marketing All-in-One for Dummies
- Britt Michaelian of WorkSmartLifestyle.com, the author of How to Start a Business… The Manual For Mom Entrepreneurs Who Want to Spend Time with Family, Make Money and Be Happy.
- Jon Morrow – one of the most talented writers I know, and also Associate Editor of Copyblogger. His triumph over his disability will blow your mind.
- David Risley, who I have written about here before – his review of my blog really helped me improve the experience for my readers.
- Leslie Samuel, whose blogging led him from teaching junior high to a university-level teaching position.
- Cliff Ravenscroft, whose love of podcasting allowed him to quit his insurance career to indulge in his podcasting career full-time.
- Lou Mongello, a former attorney who turned a passion for all things Disney into a blogging and podcasting empire. His podcast on Disney is downloaded more than 1 million times each month.
- Jim and PJ Jonas whose Goat Milk Soap business supports their family with eight children and has received national media attention.
- Dorie Clark, former presidential spokesperson, brand strategist and writer for Forbes and the Harvard Business Review.
- Antonio Centeno, former Marine Corps captain turned men’s style expert who runs the popular Real Men Real Style blog.
What is great about meeting someone at a conference like this – which obviously has a very focused, targeted appeal – is that you instantly have a connection. You both are on a similar journey, and there was a real spirit of “we’re all in this together.”
Here are some of the nice comments I received on Twitter:
4. Long-Term Opportunities
At this point, I can’t really measure the long-term opportunities which will come out of this conference, which only ended a few days ago as of this writing.
As I mentioned above, I don’t view these opportunities in the selfish sense, as in how can I benefit me? I view these opportunities as a two-way street which are mutually beneficial between myself and the other NMX attendees I met.
Here are a few of the opportunities I expect could develop over the long term:
- Opportunities for Interviews – I already identified a couple of dozen individuals who I’d like to interview, and spoke with some of them about doing an interview at some point over the next few weeks or months.
- Sharing Each Other’s Content – Having met so many other interesting entrepreneurs at NMX, I naturally want to help them by sharing their content.
- Joint Ventures – there may be opportunities to work together on joint projects.
- Speaking Opportunities – I may know of opportunities to speak which I could fill with someone I met at NMX, or I could get invited to speak again thanks to someone I met at NMX. In fact, I already spoke to the NMX organizers about possibly speaking in New York city later this year at another conference the NMX team is organizing.
Was It Worth It?
In real dollars, it won’t take much for the conference to pay off. If I bring in approximately $1,500-$2,000 in revenue as a result of something I learned or someone I met, then the conference was a success.
In terms of personal satisfaction, I feel like the conference already paid off. I was able to connect with dozens of like-minded individuals who are on a shared mission. I feel better in sync with my greater purpose of helping other entrepreneurs to be successful, which is worth the cost of attendance without a doubt.
But financial and personal benefits are not everything. In my review of the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, I talked about the “third drive” put forward by author Dan Pink. He argues that we all crave three things – self-autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
I feel like NMX fits squarely in this third box – purpose. In large part, the people who attended NMX were craving what I was – to serve others by sharing expertise and what makes us all special or unique, and in the process to expand their presence, business, or community.
That is my larger purpose, and I think having attended NMX has brought me a couple steps closer to achieving that goal.
Why I Really Went To This Conference
Finally, there’s one real reason why I went to this conference, and here it is:
Everything I do is geared at building my business in a way that will allow me to spend time with my family, to be a presence in my son’s life, and to spend time with my wife.
It’s not easy taking most of a weekend away from your family when weekend time is so cherished. It’s even harder to justify that weekend away when you are telling the wife the conference is in Las Vegas and you’re going without her.
In this case, I was willing to make the investment of time and money because I truly believe the knowledge I gained and the connections I made will help me to grow my business in the years ahead.