Last week, I was privileged to be a featured speaker at the Cultivate Retreat, a fabulous 3-day workshop for creative wedding professionals hosted by the wonderful Cassie Cherneski of Flaire Weddings. This intimate and truly gorgeous event was unlike anything I've attended before, and I felt really privileged to have been included among this group of true wedding artists from virtually all service categories: event planners and designers, photographers, florists, stationers, entertainers and more, as well as wedding bloggers.
In my presentation, I offered strategies for identifying your real target client for your wedding business, which I'll be recapping here on Wednesday (so stay tuned for that!). In today's post, my original intention was to share the best advice from the other speakers on the agenda - after thinking about it, though, I realized that (a) they might prefer to have their specific advice limited to event audiences; and (b) I'm really hoping to rope at least a couple of them into guest blogging or being interviewed for a post here on WeddingIQ! (Just in case I'm unsuccessful, I will say that a couple of highlights for me included superstar planner Val Gernhauser's brilliant advice on contracts and pricing, and the incredibly storytelling skills of Laura Foote, who is the kind of speaker I hope to be when I grow up. Goals, y'all.)
So with that in mind, I went back to my own experience as a "newbie" at this established event, and thought I'd share some advice on making the most out of a creative workshop, especially when (like me) you feel slightly like a fish out of water.
Come prepared. I don't just mean packing the right clothes and accessories (though, for an event like this one, which includes everything from business sessions to cocktail soirees to semi-formal galas). Make sure you bring business cards and your preferred method for note-taking during the conference, whether that's an iPad, laptop or old-fashioned pen and paper. Many speakers will provide worksheets or other resources to supplement their presentations,but others won't. And trust me - the sheer quantity of information will cause everything to run together inside your brain, so you'll be glad you have notes to reflect on later.
Share a room, if possible. I know, I know...privacy is a good thing, right? Especially if, like me, you're a light sleeper, can't function without coffee in the morning, and have an extremely embarrassing playlist to which you like to rock out while in the shower. Still, having a roommate almost guarantees at least a few meaningful conversations over the course of the event - and, if you're shy, it increases your chance of having someone amenable to kick around with when no activities are planned.
Open your mind and engage. It's a fact that, at any conference or workshop, some sessions will interest you and, well, some won't. Still, it may surprise you which presentations actually turn out to be valuable once you sit through them. The way a particular speaker presents his or her information, any resources that are provided, the questions asked by other attendees - any or all of these things can turn what you might have thought was a boring or irrelevant topic into one of the most useful. Of course, you'll only know a presentation was useful if you really listen. Not to sound all kindergarten teacher here, but please, try to save your private conversations, texting and Instagramming for the downtime between sessions - when you're the one up in front of the group, nothing feels crummier than a bunch of people whose attention is obviously elsewhere.
Attendees, give the speakers your feedback; speakers, make yourself available to attendees. I can honestly say, as a professional speaker, I love being approached by people from the audience. I love answering questions, I love input, I love making a new connection. It feels good to know someone was listening and trying to learn. And if you're the one speaking at an event, be sure to stick around after your session in case someone wants to chat further. Some people aren't comfortable raising their hands in a group Q&A, but a one-on-one chat can get you a new coaching client, a future speaking opportunity, or a new friend.
Don't miss out on the side chats. Because so much is going on at these events, it's tempting to just focus all your attention on the scheduled events. However, some of the most important connections I made, and the most inspiring conversations I had, took place at other times - during meals, on elevators, in the shared Uber on the way back to the airport. While the main sessions covered things like branding, marketing, and creative skills, it was during the side chats that deeper subjects, like juggling clients' religious beliefs (when they conflict with your own) and operating a wedding business as a single person, were discussed.
Get comfortable with being new, and honor your own needs. I'm assuming it's just a fact of life that any event will draw a mostly-local audience. It happened at Cultivate, which attracted a lot of Tampa Bay area professionals, and I know it happens at WeddingWire World in DC (where I'll be speaking in February, woot woot!) Knowing in advance that, if you're flying in for a workshop, you'll likely be surrounded by people who are already pals, can make it easier if you do end up feeling like an outsider. Don't take it personally, as we all know we too would make a beeline for our industry friends if the situation were reversed. Instead, either make a sincere effort to join the conversation, or focus your attention on the other non-local people - or, as I did, do a combination of both. And, if you're an introvert like me, make sure to take some time away to regroup and recharge. It's totally okay to sit out a session or two if that's what you need. As a paying attendee of the event, it's your right to participate as you see fit, and if you're a speaker, taking care of yourself only helps you to be at your best.
I'm already looking forward to my next workshop or retreat (see my upcoming speaking engagements here!) and definitely hope to be part of Cultivate again. I've heard they've already set the next event's location as North Carolina, which is super exciting. Registration isn't open quite yet, but you can sign up to be the first to know when it's live by going to the Cultivate site here.
Hope to see you at an event very soon!