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How to get the most from your conferences

There is a skill to getting the most out of your conference experiences. Events like Quickbooks® Connect, or Thriveal’s Deeper Weekend can be so engaging and give you amazing insights into running and leading your accounting firm more effectively. The content can be so much that it leaves you overwhelmed with what to do next. 

Conferences are great ways to learn – but pulling the most out of your experience ensures you are getting the full value of the investment. You have to plan ahead to maximize your experience. 

Here are four key ways you can get the most out of your accounting conference experiences:

1. Know your own goals. What are your goals in growing your firm this year? 

  • What 3 things would you like to see movement on in your firm this year? 
  • What growth issues are you struggling to figure out? 
  • Where would you like to be two years from now? 
  • How would a conference help you answer these questions? 
  • And my personal favorite ‘contrarian’ question: What are you not getting by not investing in this conference? 

It’s important to be introspective about conference investments (or any investments you make in your firm). Asking "why?" is something we do too little of. But the "why?" questions help us operate from a place of achieving goals instead of haphazardly finding ourselves in a conference session we don’t benefit from. Questions like these make you think about your goals before you ever get to the event. 

Being clear about the goals you have for your firm will help you know which sessions you should be attending. Look up the sessions offered beforehand and match them against what you are trying to achieve in your own firm. 

2. Pre-event meetups start you out on the right foot. Attending conferences by yourself can be daunting. Questions like “Will anyone talk to me?” “Will I know anyone?” or “How will I introduce myself?” cause us to struggle to commit time to get the most out of our events. 

In fact, these questions alone are enough for people to not even go to conferences. Meetups that organizations put on before the conference help to engage the attendee and break the ice. They put everyone on the same playing field – no one knows anyone yet. This is the place to get the uncomfortable meetings out of the way. This can still be hard, but introducing yourself to people at a pre-event meeting makes the conference more comfortable if you can meet a friendly face that you’ll see throughout the rest of the conference. 

And there is so much to talk about at the pre-event meetup, like: 

  • “Which sessions are you attending?” 
  • “Where did you fly in from?”
  • “Do you own your own firm?” 
  • “What do you hope to get out of this conference?” 

Many conferences have after-event get togethers too, and these can be a lot of fun. But, the pre-event meetups are where you make your friends, and ensure a more comfortable experience. 

3. Document your takeaways. For each session that you attend, write down no more than three big takeaways from that session. Then, when all sessions are over, write down your top three biggest takeaways from the whole conference. 

For example, you may attend one session on Monday. Immediately write down your top three takeaways from that session. Do the same thing from the session on Tuesday. Now you have six takeaways in total. Keep accumulating takeaways from each individual session until you have a long list. Then, at the end of the conference, read through your list and make a Top 3 List that you want to try to incorporate into your firm when you get home. You can choose to throw away the other takeaways that didn’t end up on your Top 3 List. This may be hard to do, but the act of prioritizing means you will be working on the most important takeaways from the conference, rather than getting caught up in minute details. 

4. Accountability is key. Typically, entrepreneurs growing firms struggle with execution. I know I do. It’s hard for me to know what to do next. Which big takeaway should I try to implement first? 

Finding a coach, or someone from your own firm, is a great way to make sure you implement the takeaways from your conference. Organizations like are healthy communities where creative entrepreneurial accounting firm owners can be together, challenge one another and help each other achieve their takeaways from recent conferences. The accountability found within communities and with coaches that ask “why?” questions help you think deeper about the purpose of your takeaways. 

Often, a coach can help you think deeper and get to the heart of why you chose your takeaways in the first place. Once you know the purpose behind your conference takeaways, you can really work on achieving great things. Coaches and communities also bring ongoing accountability. Executing big takeaways from a conference takes multiple levels of engagement. You’ll need the reminder to ‘stick with it’ over and over again. Don’t feel bad about this. It’s common for busy firm owners. Set time aside to get the accountability you need to get the most out of your conference investment.

Investing in conferences is incredibly valuable for building a firm. It makes you think about your company in fresh, new ways and challenges you to do things you might be scared of. This is growth. Growth stretches you and feels uncomfortable. Fight through the feelings of discomfort and get to the good stuff – the real changes that will be inevitable in your firm if you do a little planning up front before attending your next conference. 

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