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Aug 27, 2018

Cheers To Business | Podcast | Conferences | Ep3

Karen recently was a presenter at a large industry conference, and it inspired her and Cadie to want to discuss how to get the most out of conferences, trade-shows, expos, and meet-ups. Karen is the "life of a conference" and Cadie tends to be the listener and "wallflower," learn how both of these different types of conference attendees prepares, manages time, retains information, implements new ideas, and networks at these functions. These events can be expensive and usually involves travel costs and time away from work. Are they really worth all the capital and time investment? What makes a good conference? What makes a bad one? What is the value of being a presenter? And, what are the best techniques to make meaningful connections during and after the big event? So relax, sit back, pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine (or coffee, tea, or soda) and enjoy the show.

Learn more about Karen Simmons & Cadie Gaut


Karen C. Simmons, P.C.

Payroll Vault - Mobile & Baldwin Counties

About Cheers To Business

Cheers To Business is a seriously casual business and entrepreneur podcast that discusses starting, running, refining and growing your company, or excelling at your current job with two or your soon-to-be friends - over a glass of wine. Please subscribe, review and rate Cheers To Business on iTunes, SoundCloud & Overcast. You can contact and stay connected with us by LIKING our Cheers To Business Facebook page. Thanks for listening and as always, CHEERS to you!


Karen: Hey everybody. Welcome to our third episode. Today, we're gonna be talking about conferences. Are they worth going? Are they worth the investment? What do you take away and what can you use? I'm Karen and I'm a CPA, entrepreneur, with big ideas, and I'm the mom.

Cadie: I'm Cadie. I'm a payroll specialist, business owner, and detail-oriented person that makes things happen, and I'm the daughter. Welcome to Cheers to Business. There's a ton of knowledge out there that you can find online, so what's the point of really even going to conferences?

Karen: The investment that I've seen in the past, and they're not all good, so you have to find the right one, but a lot of what I take away from it is actually talking to my peers. People that are going through the same things that I'm going through, have experienced the same things, or have already worked through things that I'm trying to get through now. By actually talking with someone and building a connection with people from around the country, I think it's easier to me than reading a book where that person may not have even ever experienced what you're going through.

Cadie: I think the real-life scenarios, a lot of times books, it can be kinda "Here's how to do something." Whereas when you meet those people at conferences, it's more of a, "Hey, here's how I handled that situation." 

Karen: Yeah. A lot of times in books I think it's so, to me, Mary Poppins, that this is the way it always works and you do one, two, three. That's not life. Whereas if you get in front of a person making eye contact and sharing experiences, that's when some of the truth comes out of, "Well, yeah, we've kinda really screwed that up, but this is how we learned to do it a different way."

Cadie: If you had your pick of a conference, would it be industry-specific or how do you pick a conference? There's so many.

Karen: If I'm going to learn, then I want to go to an educational, you know, about my software, about the industry, whether it's tax or employee benefits, mainly tax, especially when you have new tax laws come out, you want to be able to find out what's going on. Not only that, it's other people's interpretations.

Cadie: Do you go to conferences to not learn? Because you said if I go to a conference to learn, so that's why I asked that question.

Karen: Well, that was a Freudian moment because sometimes conferences can be fun and there's nothing wrong, I think, with taking a business trip to a city you've always wanted to go to but haven't been to yet. But in your question, it was a two-fold question. You said which kinda conference is best and I think it is what's your end goal? What are you trying to take away and you need to have that figured out before you go so you don't waste your money. Because if you're going to learn, that's a different conference than going to sell or be sold, for example, trade shows.

Cadie: Expos.

Karen: Expos, everyone there is trying to sell, you know it when you walk in the door. Expectations, what do you expect to get out of a conference? What do you expect to give? You can't just take. You know, you gotta be willing to go up and shake people's hands and say, "Hey, my name's so and so. I do what you do." If not, you're not gonna get a lot of feedback. Wallflowers. People can be wallflowers anywhere, but if you're a wallflower at somewhere that you wanna learn, you're not gonna take as much away.

Cadie: Well, I think, you know, the stereotypical conference, you imagine this big room, everybody's just sitting there, and there's one presenter or you'll have several presenters throughout the day. That's kinda what I initially thought conferences were. And then you start going and you realize, no, it's more than just gaining the knowledge and listening to someone stand up there and talk for an hour.

Karen: I think to me, the presenters, there's a couple different kinds. There's one that's trying to educate you and there's a kind that's trying to sell you. All right. So you have to make a choice when you walk in the door. If you know which kind you're going to, and lot of times you do because you can tell by the company they work for, so you've got to choose to take the high points and know when you go in that I'm not here to buy, but I wanna hear how this person got to this place knowing what they know and what can I take away from it. At that point, it's about you. It's about me. You know, what can I learn to take back. The other kind as far as the educational ones, if it's somebody...say, take a doctor's conference. If you have a surgery conference, you gotta master surgeon up there, somebody is telling them how they did the procedure. That's totally different than what I did at a conference a week ago was presenting to inform the people that I want to buy my product. I was educating them, but it's because I want them to buy my product.

Cadie: So you were selling but it wasn't blatantly selling, I guess.

Karen: No, it's probably pretty blatant.

Cadie: Use my business.

Karen: Use my business. Why? Because I know about my business and I can help you do better at something that you don't do.

Cadie: And it will benefit you. That's the key.

Karen: Value. It's no different than any other show we've done it, and probably any other will do in the future. It's about the value that's given. Now, there's conferences I haven't gone back to. There's one in particular. Now, I take a staff member and we go every year and we've been...this will be the sixth year in a row. Its attacks in software, because they throw it all in there. I know they're trying to sell me. I know how to say no.

Cadie: I know which conference you're talking about, it's quite expensive. So what makes it so valuable?

Karen: I think sometimes not just the presenters, but the round tables. When you do round tables, and what that is in case anybody's not sure or hasn't been to conferences, is that at night, your peers, you have different tables with different topics on them. Sometimes you fight like a Black Friday sale to sit at the table you want to because that particular item may be so popular. For example, one year, it was converting from one software to another. They were making us convert to a higher software. Everybody wanted in on that because we all wanted to know how to do it. But that's when you have one expert at the table, but you and your peers are sitting around asking questions. There's no way that's feasible that you will ever ask the right questions.

Cadie: So I think that's important is when you do go to a conference, specifically one that's over multiple days, it's so easy once the conference is over, the introvert in me, I just wanna go back to my hotel room and decompress because of the mental energy that's taken place that whole entire day. But that's not where business happens. Business happens, you know, if you're there to network and connect, especially if it's industry specific, you need to form connections with those people who are in your industry, you know, especially if they're in a different area because it's someone to brainstorm with.

Karen: Why don't you tell them the game we play at conferences when we go together? Do you remember?

Cadie: Yes.

Karen: Tell it.

Cadie: I don't like that game.

Karen: I love that game.

Cadie: So basically, what we do is she picks out someone, "Hey, go talk to this person." And so then...

Karen: And, of course, she does it to me, but we pick out the most unlikely talkable person ever, ever at the conference, the least likely person to be able to have a conversation with. Usually, that person ends up being the most interesting person you've ever met in your whole entire life. But why do it? One, because get out and talk to somebody. Don't follow behind me with your clipboard. Get out there and talk and learn and do it without me necessarily.

Cadie: It can be overwhelming. Conferences are huge and there are so many people and it can be overwhelming. I have been a wallflower so many times where I just, "Let me stand back, just wait for the conference to begin. I don't wanna talk to anyone. I'm just here to learn." But to kinda help bypass that, I just usually pick out one person. Let me just get to know this one person really well and then that's my priority for the day and that kinda helps me, makes me feel better.

Karen: That's a great practice. That is a fantastic practice. You know, and then it depends on personalities. I'll probably go up to 10 people and say, "Hey, my name's Karen and I'm from Alabama."

Cadie: You're drawing enough attention that people are coming up to you, which is not a bad thing. We have two different approaches.

Karen: Yeah, and at that last conference when you were sitting in the audience, when you were doing the signal for "wrap it up" while I was presenting, why did that lady come up to me afterwards and say, "Your daughter said you're crazy?"

Cadie: I have no comment.

Karen: Yeah, I heard it, but that's okay. I'm okay being the way I am and that's why you and the listeners should be okay the way that you are. It doesn't matter. It's just different personality. But what do you wanna get out of it? Sometimes you just gotta suck it up to do it a little different way to get what you want. Cadie, do you think you could ever be a presenter at a conference?

Cadie: If you weren't there.

Karen: That's an honest answer.

Cadie: Just because you make me nervous. You're intimidating. It's like taking your driver's test.

Karen: But I'm just trying to help you.

Cadie: I would love to present, if it's a topic that I feel comfortable with.

Karen: But say you have presented, you've been a speaker at the University of South Alabama, you're with the Junior League program with...

Cadie: I'm not with Junior League.

Karen: Junior Junior league. What is it?

Cadie: No.

Karen: Didn't you do something at Davidson High School.

Cadie: Yeah.

Karen: What was it?

Cadie: Junior Achievement.

Karen: See, Junior...all right. But you got up in front of people. You do it all the time. You do it at Southwest Mobile Chamber of Commerce.

Cadie: Two people came to that one.

Karen: You've done it at others with the supporting star student. You've done it with different things.

Cadie: No, in the moment, I'm fine. The anxiety leading up to it, I feel like I'm having a heart attack. But once I'm up there, I'm fine.

Karen: Right. See, I fall apart afterwards.

Cadie: Okay. Well, to each their own. Cheers.

Karen: Cheers.

Cadie: So I would want to be a presenter, and you've been a presenter many times before. What do you get out of it, being a presenter?

Karen: It depends on the message I'm trying to get across. If I'm trying to inform, like talking at a Chamber of Commerce, then it cannot be articulate enough to be able to get my point across more slowly, informative, where they understand what I'm saying. Versus if I'm trying to sell something and talk somebody into something, it takes on a little different facet. I think I do, because I am the big dreamer, big ideas type that I sometimes squirrel and I go off a little bit because I cannot go by a script. It drives me insane. I get so nervous. I can't even talk.

Cadie: With new businesses trying to grow that brand, be involved in the community, it is a lot of who knows who. So how do you go about doing that?

Karen: You know, it depends on if you're in your community or if you're at a conference. You know, at a conference, if it's a Payroll Vault conference, for example, then everybody knows what you do. Then you're talking about processes. How do you make this happen?

Cadie: The nitty-gritty.

Karen: The nitty-gritty. If you're at a general, you know, the tax and accounting software conference that I go to, there are 1,600 CPAs and their staff at one of the Gaylord Hotels. That's a lot of people. Then it's different. You have to search out the right fit for you and your peers. If you're doing something at your community, then they know who you are. They know what you're supposed to know. And a lot of times, they expect you to know more than you do know. So it's finding the right target locally of what they need to hear and wanna hear because sometimes they're not the same thing.

Cadie: So when I travel to these fancy Gaylord Hotels, is that a business expense that I can write off, CPA?

Karen: I'm getting a CPE. I've gotta have continuing education. Yes, it is a business expense. I'm learning for my business. Now, let's say you go to the Gaylord in Orlando and you go to Disney World or Walt Disney, the tickets to that are not deductible.

Cadie: Okay.

Karen: Balance.

Cadie: You know, a lot of networking happens at the bar afterwards. And what about those drinks? Can I write those off, meals and entertainment?

Karen: Well, meals and entertainment, only half deductible. But, you know, if you're talking about your kids and grandkids, just be reasonable with it. But just remember that if you take a friend or spouse or a non-spouse that their airplane ride is not deductible, but if you're staying in the same hotel room, you can write off your hotel room. Cadie, you've been going with me to conferences and then it seemed kinda weird when you started going out to conferences without me. I think you even texted me from an airport. It feels weird to be without you in an airport. It wasn't that?

Cadie: You texted me, "I miss you."

Karen: Oh, well, whatever which way it started. But anyway, what do you take away from them now? Why do you keep going?

Cadie: I think it's easy to get caught up in the online world. You know, I've got people that I follow on Instagram that I look up to and I feel like I'm friends with them but I've never actually met them and it's easy to just keep doing that. I can find webinars online all day long. However, going to a conference, you're able to really sit and connect with people. You cannot be a genuine connection and I'm a big believer in energy and vibes and sitting with someone after the conference talking about what we just learned over drinks, and then later connecting with them online to stay connected. I think that's just so much more valuable.

Karen: Well, everybody looks perfect on social media except the ones who want to make money from not being perfect. So, you know, I take a lot away, what you said, from that, but also what do you learn about how to put these things in place once you get back?

Cadie: Oh, that's a good point because it's so easy to just go to a conference and you're taking all these notes page after page and you're so motivated. And let's say you get home on a Saturday, well, by the time Monday rolls around and the team asks you, "How was your trip?" You're just, "Oh, it was good." You know, and it's almost like you lose that momentum. Or you've taken so much back that you don't even know where to start. It's like when you go to the grocery store and you buy $200 worth of groceries and then you stop at Taco Bell on the way home you. So when you go to a conference, it's so important to have that idea of what am I going to take out of this? And even if it's just three tactical items to implement when you get home.

Karen: Can I tell you a trick I do?

Cadie: Of course.

Karen: Thank you. I like 10 things.

Cadie: Ten?

Karen: Ten, yes.

Cadie: No, too many. I disagree.

Karen: No, minor. Not all of them are major. But, for example, you know, alphabetize something like this or change the routing sheet up like that or whatever. But if you take 10, but you have one piece of paper, if you have that notebook that you have, leave that one sheet clean and every time you run across something that...and go ahead and put 1, 2, 3, 4 through 10, and every time you're in one of those classes or talking with somebody and you go, "Oh, that's a take home." Go to that front page and write about...and don't worry about what's the number one. Number one is just your starting point. Number 10 is not the worst, it's just where you ended up. So take those ideas. When you have those aha moments, write that moment down. You've got the rest of the notes to follow back up later. You have the information to follow up.

Cadie: I will agree with you to take notes, like, actually physically, old school write. When you have your laptop taking notes, one, you're almost limited to writing vertically. Whereas when you are having those aha moments, there's nothing better than a piece of notepaper to really just kinda go crazy with your notes.

Karen: You know, when I take my pencil and I underline it three times because I mean it's really important to me, that's a lot different than going and finding the underline thing in Word. You know, I can't make that happen, but I'm older.

Cadie: I mean the computer is the distraction. That's a big thing. It's just when you're at a conference, stay focused on why you were there. You're investing your money.

Karen: You know, and sometimes when you're taking notes, I have my own system of how big an explanation point is. Something's really important to me, it's a big explanation. So thing's just eh, okay, just a little one. It's the little things.

Cadie: Tidbit for the day.

Karen: One of them. So today, we've talked about conferences, good, bad, educational, trade shows, why do it, where do you go? We've also talked about some tax deductions and, you know, how this can work in your favor, but whatever you do, and whatever you decide, please save your receipts. Y'all, thank you so much for listening and being here with us today. I'm Karen.

Cadie: I'm Cadie. Please be sure to subscribe to "Cheers to Business" podcast on iTunes or anywhere else that you get your podcast. Visit our Facebook and be sure to give us a like. And if you have any questions or topics you'd like us to discuss, shoot us an email from the website