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What is your intention with my conference?

Conference season officially kicked off with Bank Director’s Acquire or be Acquired (AOBA for those in the know) and will slow a bit through the summer before full crescendo with Finovate Fall and Money20/20 US. Uncertainty around the impending (or past) economic crisis is wreaking havoc on planning as some banks are cutting attendance while others are using it as a cheat code to leverage outside knowledge on critical topics. Our team is frequently asked: “What are the must attend conferences?” The answer, of course, is “it depends.” 

What are your intentions with this conference? 

WHICH conferences you and your team should attend largely depends on WHY you are attending. I often think of a story from one banker at his previous bank, and how his worst nightmare was the Monday after the CEO attended a conference and would hand him a stack of business cards without context. It was up to him to decipher if there was a why behind each contact.  

As I framed up my “4 why’s of conference attendance,” I realized our Annual Member Meeting and Fintech House at SXSW are a 5th genre that pulls the others together.  

Here is the how-to framework to maximize your conference attendance and why you should attend Member Meeting. 

A crowded vendor hall.

Reason 1: Relational

Conferences, especially the big ones like ABA’s Conference of Community Bankers and ICBA Live, are essential meeting grounds to rekindle old connections and make new ones. Industry veterans can efficiently maintain extensive networks and rising stars expand their sphere as they take on broader responsibilities.  

Maximizing Value: Take notes in the moment on the back of business cards about shared points of interest or reasons to follow up with a more in-depth conversation. Use existing contacts as springboards to meet new, relevant contacts by asking, “Who else do you know here that is an expert on _________?” 

Traps: Not leaving enough time for serendipitous conversations. Getting trapped in the corner with a group of people you see regularly or who aren’t relevant to your goals.  

Reason 2: Functional

Fintech Meetup is the ultimate expression of the functional conference. Close to 200,000 double opt-in meetings take place in less than 72 hours. Private meeting rooms around Money20/20 serve much the same purpose to move sales, partnerships, or acquisitions one step closer to the finish line. The vendor halls at Finovate and Money20/20 are a quick way to suss out the viability of potential solutions.  

Maximizing Value: Have clarity on objectives and prepare, whether that is knowing in advance which potential solutions align with organizational needs or having sufficient background for individual discussions. Come with clear, shared objectives for the discussion. 

Traps: Wandering the vendor hall without knowing what problem you are looking to solve (JP calls this shopping on an empty stomach). Rushing the close — only so much can be accomplished in a single meeting. 

Reason 3: Aspirational

There are the bank- and fintech-focused conferences that showcase organizations further ahead in their evolution and provide insight into what is possible. Attend American Banker’s Digital Banking or The Financial Brand and every organization, no matter how progressive, can find areas of improvement. 

Maximizing Value: Have a clear, strategic direction about what the organization aspires to be and for which customers, yet remain open to new approaches and new possibilities. 

Traps: Sending a junior team that can’t influence the organizational trajectory.  

Reason 4: Inspirational

These are the conferences that are not bank or fintech conferences. Todder Moning, Lead Futurist at US Bank, introduced me to the phrase Future Safaris that I absolutely love. SXSW and the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) introduce us to the potential future world and infinite possibilities. 

Maximizing Value: Arrive with a growth mindset. Reflection to ask yourself the “what if” questions that arise.  

Traps: “Our bank could never do that” thinking.  

The Missing Link: Integration

Conferences can serve more than one purpose, which is why clarity around the goal to be achieved is so important. Perhaps the biggest mistake in failing to maximize the ROI of conferences, regardless of the reason for attendance, is deciphering WHAT should be done with the information gathered. Inspiration needs to be translated into an actionable Point of View of how it could influence the organizational strategy and where the potential partners met at another conference could be part of that roadmap.  

The Alloy Labs Annual Member Meeting is intentionally designed to promote deep discussion and integrative thinking the impels action. Instead of nodding-head panels and glib pay-to-play vendor reps as “speakers”, our sessions are all about real-world conversations with members around real-world opportunities and challenges. One eye on creating a future that doesn’t yet exist, with one eye on the many obstacles in the path.  

We’re not about painting rosy pictures about the potential of new capabilities and new partners. We’re about sharing the journeys of what it takes to realize that potential, and the difficult truth of the scars earned along the way.  

None of us are as smart as all of us. Lean on the wisdom and experience of your peers to help take you into the next era. 


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