Yes, there is great value in the educational side of conferences, but there is much,much more that can be gleaned from these events. (Sitting with Eric Pratum and Mitch Joel at Social Slam 2012)

As I sit here at 5:30am on Friday morning waiting for my plane to arrive and take me home, I find myself contemplating all that was Content Marketing World 2012 (great job again by Joe Pulizzi /CMI gang) and the profound experiences I had with the event.

Over the last year, I’ve spoken at quite a few conferences. Some were big and some were small. Some were full of well-known speakers and others not so much.

But in looking back at all of these events, it’s not the sessions that have stuck with me… nor the keynotes… nor the crazy parties.

The Power of Intimacy

Rather, over and over again, the magic of these conferences seems to happen outside of the classroom and loud music halls and instead in the intimate conversations we’re able to experience with our peers—the ones that are sharing so many of the highs and lows we’re all dealing with in this thing called business, life, and a pursuit of happiness.

It was a year ago at the first Content Marketing World when I sat down with Michael Stelzner, Amy Porterfield, and a few others at a restaurant and unexpectedly chatted for hours. About 90 minutes into the conversation, Stelzner got a serious look on his face and said, “Guys, what we are doing right now is the magic of these events. It can’t be replaced online. And it’s what I enjoy most about conferences.”

Although I was still very green at the time, Stelzner’s words have echoed in my ears many times over the past year.

Like the time I was speaking in New Orleans earlier this year and on a bus-ride back to our hotel Gini Dietrich and I had one of the best conversations about life I’ve ever had.

Or at Blog World New York this year when I had a quiet dinner with Craig Mcbreen and John Falchetto, accompanied with incredible conversation about goals, family, and making progress.

Or chatting with Jay Baer last month in Minnesota and having him explain to me, as only he can, how I need to scale my business going forward.

Or sitting with Don Stanley a few weeks ago and talking about kids, HubSpot, and growing a business.

And then just this week when I was able to get so much incredibly sage advice from Mitch Joel about some of the mistakes I’ve been making in terms of how I’m handling my speaking career and what I should be charging companies going forward.

Literally, the examples go on and on, and the experiences from each are invaluable.

I get asked all the time by readers what events and conferences they should be attending. Well, in reality, I don’t know if I’m able to answer that question.

First off, there seems to be a new social media/blogging/marketing conference popping up every week.

But secondly, and more importantly, there is magic to be found in all of these events. There are people attending them, just like you, that are just waiting to have a powerful and fulfilling conversation.

So where is the value found in all these conferences?

  • It’s in the quiet conversations.
  • It’s in the feelings of unity with others.
  • It’s the understanding that you’re not alone in your struggles.
  • And it’s certainly in the mentors that are willing to share.

And going forward, I hope to have more of these “moments” with each of you.

Your Turn:

Have you attended a social media/marketing conference over the past couple of years? What was the most rewarding part for you? What were your most memorable experiences from these events?

51 thoughts on “Where is the Real Value Found in all these Social Media Conferences?

  1. Marcus,

    I love that you’re a thinker.

    When we live in a word of great and thoughtful people that are separated by silicon and anti-reflective screens, there’s always that yearning for closer connections.

    Events that enable people to look one another in the eyes and see what they need to hear, that’s when the real stuff happens.

    Here’s to future meaningful in-person connections.

    • Thanks Michael. I meant what I said here. What you said that night at the first CMW has stuck with me till now and will always have a place in my mind when I’m at these events.

      Thanks for all the support bud and continued success :-)


      • You really have started to look like a lion.

        • Hahahaha, it is fitting, isn’t it Barry? 😉

  2. 100% true. Amber Naslund was the first one to really turn my head to the value of the dinner over the party.

    The only challenge I see with this is that for some attendees, they want to interact with speakers and leaders and people like you whose blog they adore, and when the speaker types sneak out to do their private dinner thing, I always feel like it’s a violation of the Golden Rule.

    If I was an attendee and not a speaker, I’d want to be able to interact with the speakers over a beer. And I can tell you that some of the best conversations I’ve ever had at these things are with attendees not speakers, because they bring a totally different, outside the bubble perspective to it all.

    It’s not a zero sum game of course, and I work hard to do both (someone told me LATE the other night that I was the last speaker in the bar….not sure that’s a victory). But I do sometimes wonder what speakers’ goals should be – building their own businesses, or building the businesses of the people who aren’t speakers (yet)?

    • You know Jay, that’s a very thoughtful response and it’s one I’ve thought about many, many times as well.

      In my mind, there is a balance in all things. My greatest reward this past week (which I’ll be talking about next week) was the fact that 3 very successful clients of mine came to CMW. And although they came to learn from the speakers and also support me, they ended up bonding as an entire group and sharing so much with each other about experiences, failures, victories, etc.

      Needless to say, it was awesome to see and I really loved it.

      And yes, I too battle with the balance of being with my speaker friends versus being with non-speaking attendees. There is pure gold to be found within both conversations and each has its individual reward, and ideally there is always a mix.

      Hopefully, folks in this industry will always see me as one who is accessible and puts myself on the same “level” as everyone else.

      Thanks again man, have a great weekend,


    • Kudos Jay. Right on comments. It seems you care about people and not feeding your own ego. That’s cool in my book.

    • Hey Marcus-

      Dead on here. I really got the most out of CMW by hanging with your two other clients. To me, they’re the real rock stars (Steve is still talking trash by the way!). Steve pushed me to take a 2nd look at email marketing and yellow pages with my basement waterproofing business (and I pushed Steve to consider hiring a CCO). Jason gave me another perspective to consider for my new inbound marketing company. That’s where the real value lied. Jay Baer also gave me some good insight. But it wasn’t until after his workshop.

      As you know, CMW was my first conference. Despite its near-flawless execution, I do think the format needs to be changed up as very few of the actual presentations resonated with me. Too much theory and not enough application. And I don’t think it was the speakers fault (for the most part).

      Instead of basing the tracks on subject matter (content creation, social media, etc.), instead they should base them off of career types (Marketing Consultant, Small Business Owner, Multinational Executve, Starting a Business, etc.). What a small business owner hopes to get out of social media is much different that what a marketing consultant or multinational executive hopes to achieve.

      But what do I know…I’m just a waterproofing guy.

      Hope to see you again soon amigo. You rock like none other.

      • Hey my man. Yeah, it was awesome to see you relate with Steve and the Block guys. For me, that was the highlight of the event, far and away.

        As for the format, you make some good points. It’s a tough thing to do and arguments can be made for both formats. Honestly, I have yet to see the perfect conference because there will always be different levels of knowledge and skill. For example, how many level of business blogging are there? One could argue at least 3 or 4. Blog World deals with the same issues.

        Anyway, I see more conferences in your future…including some where you’ll be speaking yourself. :-)


    • Hi Jay-

      You may recall we had a brief moment after your presentation where you gave me some good advise on CTA placement. Thank you for that.

      I’d be interested in your perspective on basing the tracks at CMW (and other conferences) more on career types (marketing consultant, small biz owner, muti-national exec, budding entrepreneur, etc.) rather than just subject matter (social media, content creation, etc.). Then you can focus more on specific application instead of theory. The needs to a small biz owner are entirely different than someone who runs an internet marketing agency or works as an exec at a Fortune 500 company.

      Speaking from outside the bubble, that’s what most of the attendees were clamoring for (at least those who had the stones to speak up).

      Nice meeting you.

  3. Damn, I am early for a change.

    So, Marcus, regardless of who you are we all go through life the same way and the critical thing you are talking about here, for me, is engaging with people face to face and the value you get from that. Parties are not for that for me. I went to SoMix 2012 in Toronto and while it was a small event the best part of it was the social gathering afterward where I actually met a few of the folks that I correspond with on-line. It changes those relationships.

    For me, one of the best ways for anyone to succeed is to sit and exchange ideas with like-minded people and talk about what your passions are. It is one of the best ways to realize growth. We are all human after all not matter how super-hero some of us are made out to be. We all put our pants on one leg at a time and if interested want to share how that happens in each others world.

    Thank you for being real Marcus. That goes a long flippin’ way in this world.

    • Ralph, great seeing you man and even better perspective.

      Speaking of parties, I would like to see events do more events where those one-on-one opportunities are really promoted, more so than a party or concert. The problem with concerts is that you can’t hear yourself think, much less have a conversation with the person next to you. I’m not sure of the right alternative, but I know for certain there exists a mass of people that would be very inclined to take that route instead.

      Again, thanks so much for adding your thoughts here Ralph!


  4. I haven’t attended any such events. In India, there are very few events of such scale. For people like us, who find it difficult to connect with people in the real world, establishing relationships, and sharing ideas by means of blog comments, emails, and guest posts works the best :)

    • You know Adarsh, you should start a group there in India bud. I’m serious. You “get it” and there have got to be many more digital people just like you that need a place and a leader. Why not make it Adarsh Thampy? :-)


  5. Absolutely buddy, the real value of any of these conferences for online people is the off-line connections we make and build.

    It’s ironic in a way that a bunch of business owners who run their show online have to make the time to attend real-life, face to face events.

    I truly believe that any real success can only happen off-line and is only THEN showcased online.
    You are a perfect example of this Marcus, your career really shot off once you were given access to big speaking platforms.

    That’s your shtick! This platform only reinforces your off-line awesomeness.

    Funny how these two worlds mix and support each other :)

    • Yep, it is funny my friend. You know, you’ve been on this train ever since I’ve known you John. In all seriousness, you have an understanding of offline relationships that runs deep, and I’m guessing it comes from your previous line of work.

      Appreciate you tons bud,


  6. Paul Nelson

    Could not agree with you more. I just attended Inbound2012 and while I found the keynotes and breakout sessions interesting and valuable, meeting new people and having valuable conversations, and maybe even a few new partnering arrangements was far more valuable. This is especially true with today’s technology that allows me to go back and review the keynotes and breakouts online after the conference is over.

    On a personal side it was also great to meet you in person and shake your hand. (also did the same with others I am connected to or follow online).

    You have great ideas and I love the way you share them with such enthusiasm.


    • Paul, it was great meeting you at Inbound12 and I certainly appreciate you stopping by here as well to share your thoughts.

      Even better, I’m sure you and I will have many more handshakes in the future at other Inbounds :-)

      Keep up the great work my friend,


  7. Really interesting points you make and a great convo too. I’m with you. The most rewarding parts trace to a handshake, hug, cheers, business card exchange, book signing, or photo together. It doesn’t matter whether that’s a dinner a party or a chance run-in. What matters is a relationship is forged. You and I have never dined together Marcus, but since I’ve gone out of my way to “friend” you, I know if I email or call, you’ll be generous with your time and respond (don’t prove me wrong brutha.) I’m with Jay, when you popular speakers/authors/leaders/teachers hide-away come mealtime, it does indeed deprive many others networking opps. It’d doesn’t make it a selfish act on your part though. You just need to be genuinely interested in others when the time comes. Had Jay not gone to the concert & BBQ, I may not have come to know him. Had Stelzner not stopped on his way to hit the hay and give me almost 30 minutes of his time, I would have missed out on all kinds of opps. But still, if Mitch Joel doesn’t tell you how to develop your speaking career, you can’t share his advice with me. The power of intimacy is indeed powerful. I submit the real power comes from someone genuinely caring about the life of someone else. Remember the old axiom, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

    • And that sums it up almost perfectly Barry. You seem to have a perspective that’s dead-on here. It’s a matter of truly caring– no matter the “name” of the individual.

      BTW, your article made me laugh and laugh and laugh man. You’re seriously one heck of a great and funny writer. :-)


  8. Social media success is based on 1 to 1 conversations. Whether we meet in conference halls or on social sites the intimate nature of a private conversation is where the connecting, the magic, happens.

    Focus less on numbers. Focus more on 1 number: the person in front of you at the time. Build a bond. Exchange ideas. Forget audiences, reach, numbers, people….focus on a person. Exchange real value.

    Thanks Marcus!

    • Ryan, this was a really great comment man– focus more on 1 number, the person in front of you….I love that bud.

      Now if other businesses can just catch that vision 😉


  9. It’s been more than a year since I attended a conference Marcus, and even though I did learn a lot, I didn’t talk to a single person at the conference. It was just me, in the crowd, watching and listening. I’ve always had a hard time being the one starting conversations with “strangers” and I’m also terrible at small talk.

    I do understand the power of meeting people offline and having the quiet talks, but it’s hard :)

    • No doubt Jens, I know it’s tough. Believe it or not (and you probably won’t believe it) I find it easier to speak to a group of 1,000 then try and go up to people in a crowd that I don’t know and introduce myself.

      But I’m working on it 😉

      Thanks for always being so real Jens,


  10. Hey Marcus,

    I just loved the content marketing world conference and your talk was inspirational.

    You can do so much online but when you sit down over a beer, coffee or a bite to eat with someone great things can happen.

    It was great to meet up with you again Marcus. Next one on my list is Blogworld in Vegas in January!


    • Ian, I tell ya bud, you’re a cool cat and I love how you’re always smiling.

      See you at BW 😉


  11. @Jens P. Berget – I completely understand your comment. I was just sitting here ready to say to Marc, “really? You REALLY had to go there?” Marc has always found a way to take me outside my comfort zone (and Marc, Jay was even better at it than you – think white water rafting LOL)
    Although my world isn’t conferences, it is that “face time” that I go to great lengths to get out of. Example: yesterday’s art event. Afterward, there was a picnic dinner for all the attendees. Under the guise of leaving early due to weather issues, the reality is that I am extremely uncomfortable meeting new people. And today I am kicking myself for NOT going because, as Marc said, there is where the value is.
    Let’s make a deal, Jens. Marc hit us both on the same issue (stung, didn’t it?) – the next opportunity we have to make that “face time”, we take the chance. Step out of the comfort zone and go.

    • I think that’s a great challenge Jen! :-)

      And at least too you know it’s something you want to work on and improve, and that goes a long ways to getting better.

      Keep it up,


  12. Marcus,

    CMW was definitely worth the trip. Met some lovely people and the information was awesome.

    It was great to meet people I had only met online – it just further solidify the connection. As always, it was good to see you in action.

    • Thanks Shirley, you’ve been incredibly kind to me since we first met. Thanks so much and keep doing great things! :-)


  13. Hey Marcus! Long time reader, first time commenter. I’m pretty new to the blogging game (1 week, as I’m typing this), so I haven’t gone to any social media/blogging conferences yet, but I definitely plan on it in the near future. As a corporate trainer, I know that the coolest moments don’t always necessarily happen in the classroom–it’s often the connections that like-minded participants make with each other during breaks or even after class that can be the most meaningful.

    Keep up the great work my man, I really dig your positive vibe and ease in connecting with others. Thanks for the constant inspiration!

    • Shola, honored for you to comment here and a big CONGRATS to you on starting your blog. What a magical ride it will be for you my friend!

      Keep pushing and believing, and hope to run into you at one of these conferences in the future,



  14. Hey Marcus,
    Honored to be lucky enough to hang out with you. One of the highlights of my year for a variety of reasons. Learned a ton and especially loved chatting about family and why we do what we do. Lions and Rhinos have a lot in common 😉

    One thing that kept coming to mind as I read your article is the fact that what we do isn’t B2B or B2C it’s P2P Person to Person. There is tremendous value in interacting on a personal level with others who are passionate, committed and driven to learn more and apply more. While I appreciate all the electronic connections I make via Twitter, blogging, FB, LinkedIn, etc., nothing compares to meeting and talking in real life.

    Sharing real world experiences, victories and challenges at conferences creates a bond that deepens connections we make online. And for me, these intimate interactions remind me I am blessed to be a part of a community of doers looking to make a positive impact in their industries and in the world.

    • You rock Stanley :-)

      Thrilled to know you bud and keep on doing your thing man.


      PS: Sorry about those Badgers 😉

      • Don Stanley

        You’re too kind. And yes, I’m not too happy with my Badgers 😉 Glad to see WVU crushing it though.

  15. Marcus,

    The reason I was NOT at CMW 2012 was instead I attended an Insurance Industry event in Atlanta Georgia (which I spoke twice at and ended up being two incredibly unique and rewarding experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything).

    But just as you said though speaking in front of 150 young insurance agents from all over the country was personally rewarding it was the opportunity to share thoughts, experiences, ideas, questions with individuals I had known only through Online tools that I never forget.

    The intimate connection made by shaking hands (or in some cases hugs which I also enjoy) cannot be duplicated Online.

    These people are more than business colleagues or connections now… They’re friends.

    I’m glad that CMW 2012 was such a wonderful experience for you Marcus. I hope that some day soon our offline lives will cross paths and we can make a similar connection.

    All the best.

    Ryan H.

    • Ryan, great to hear from you and thrilled your speaking career is on the rise. You were where you needed to be, no doubt.

      BTW, did you get any video from the event? And let me know if there is a social conference you plan on attending this coming year, it’s time we hooked up IRL.

      Later bud,


  16. Marcus,

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. It is so true…there are relationships I started last year at the first Content Marketing World that I got a chance to build on last week in Columbus. We were connected online since last year, but it was the face to face time that really cemented the relationships.

    The last two conferences I attended–INBOUND 2012 and Content Marketing World 2012–were both fantastic in terms of the information shared by speakers and presenters. But it was the time I spent meeting people and bonding with them that feels the most valuable.

    I agree that a concert is not a great place for a conversation. But after attending two concerts and two conferences in the past two weeks, I can attest to the fact that a concert is the kind of shared experience (that is not directly work related) that helps build relationships.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Manya, looks like we’ve been sharing the same travel log these past few weeks 😉

      Great hearing from you and glad to see you’ve gotten so much out of these events.



      • Marcus,
        I know! We have had the same travel log, but I promise…I am not stalking you. :)
        I look forward to hearing you speak again soon.

  17. Hi Marcus,

    This is a post I’ve actually wanted to write, because the small moments, like that dinner are the moments that really do make a difference. Since that event I’ve changed more than a few things and the month of September … well, all I can say is fun times are ahead after a summer of planning.

    Not sure how much value there is with these after parties anyway. Trying to compete with the noise of the crowd and the music … and practically shouting at each other is a terrible environment for communication. Not to mention, several of the people I wanted to talk to were always otherwise occupied.

    There is so much power is simply sitting down with others and chatting, sharing ideas. A one hour conversation can make all the difference in the world and open your eyes to things you’d never really thought of. That’s where true change happens!

    Plus it’s so cool to actually meet the person you’ve been conversing with online for months. A Skype call is great, but just doesn’t do the job.

    Love the post. This is exactly why the Blogworld trip was so worth it for me.

    • Craig, great to hear from you bud and thanks again for what was an excellent and memorable moment at BWNY for me.

      Keep up the great work my friend,


  18. Hi Marcus – I was so bummed that I could not get to CMW this year. I was looking forward to connecting with you in person. I really enjoyed reading this post, because I think this is one of the greatest things about conferences as well. Making those in-person connections and learning from others in your boat. I particularly like Jay Baer’s comment below, because as a non-speaker, it means so much to pick the brains of those leading the way….even if only for a few short minutes!! Glad CMW was great again this year. Oh, and BTW, we decided to stick with Hubspot, so that is why I haven’t followed up with you. Keep on keeping it real!

    • Hey Traci! Yep, I missed you in the audience this year! 😉

      Hope to catch up again though!


  19. Gutted to have missed it really, bet it was amazing.

  20. Lions, Rhinos and Baer, on my! What an awesome article and stream of comments. It is so true that the real value is in forging new and deeper relationships with peers sharing in our same struggles and making real connections with mentors who help people like me grow, improve and think bigger.

    I may have missed out on Content Marketing World but earlier this year at Social Slam I practically tackled a few of you “gurus” (wink) to thank you for inspiring me in my journey. Finally getting the chance to shake your hand and tell you that you’ve made a difference in my life was really fun.

    And now I feel like I have new friends out there to continue learning and growing from on a more real level… not just twitter connections and tiny avatars and RTs.

    The real deal is better.

  21. Hi Marcus,

    Great post – And yes , Amongst other , when attending such an conference one of the things one normally notices is facial expressions and emotions being universal with the displeasure on certain developments in the community – Like Search Engine updates and other related topics that has a major influence in Online business and marketing alike.

  22. Wrote much the same earlier this year Marcus, in fact right after SoSlam. Sure I learned some things, but I’m already a believer (w/ a healthy doubt on the side). The big draw, the highlight was the people – some new, some ‘old’ friends met for the first time in person. Think it’s true of most events, not just SM — surem the conference has its moments, but it’ll always be about the networking, the people. FWIW.

  23. Marcus,

    Another great topic, my friend. I had spoken at an event recently where Willie Jolley also spoke. After he spoke, Willie had a huge line of people buying his products and waiting for him to inscribe his books. It struck me that Willie was “in the moment” with each person. He was not looking at the line, he was solely focused on the person in front of him at the time.

    I took note of that interaction. Based on that experience, I consciously make it a point to do that now. I know that in the past I would get distracted by the line behind them. Seeing Willie give each person his undivided attention was a valuable lesson. Having seen you at several events, I am impressed by how intimately and genuinely you engage with your audience.

    As meaningful as the session are, I agree with the others in this thread that it is the one-to-one interaction that makes it all worthwhile. I can’t tell you much about most of the sessions I have attended, but I can recount with detail each meal and conversation I have had with you and others at the “after event” gatherings.

    Even though social media allows us to have a one-to-many channel, you help illustrate that it is all about the individual.

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