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The Value of a Conference: Fincon 2019 Recap

I just got back from Fincon 2019 and want to give my recap.  In typical Full Time Finance fashion this post will take a more general bend than most.  Specifically, I want to explore the value of attending a conference to your career.

A Conference for All Things

The recent Washington, D.C. conference was my first financial blogging conference, but it is hardly my first major conference.  Almost any major career path has a supporting conference.  At very least this is because the people running conferences like to make money.  Also, the people attending them like to travel on their company’s dime.  

I am sure that sounds harsher than it is intended.  It is by no means directed at FinCon since I chose to spend my own money to attend.  Rather it’s a general comment that sooner or later an opportunity to attend a conference will cross your door no matter your career.  Not all of them are worth your time.  FinCon was worth mine, though perhaps not in the way you would think.

Conference Sessions, Not What You Think

Conferences have sessions or talks on subjects relevant to your career.  FinCon had many of these.  There were many well presented talks, including by some of my fellow bloggers.  I attended a few of these talks and thoroughly enjoyed them.

But…  let’s be honest.  I have been blogging for 3 years.  Most of the information presented at Fincon I have already come across at some point.  Which brings me to my first point.  Conference sessions are usually really helpful for those new to a space.  They are also usually helpful in a rapidly evolving area of research.  

However, most of us don’t work in a rapidly evolving area.  While blogging may be evolving it’s highly doubtful that someone is going to present on some new content or marketing trick I haven’t heard of.  So the first thing we can establish is that talks at conferences are informationally most useful when you are initially starting your career or activity.  Later on the informational value declines significantly.

The Value of a Conference Information Session: Motivation

That doesn’t mean information sessions are not of value to the experienced attendee.  However, the value is of a different sort.  Particularly it is the motivational aspect of the discussion that can be truly helpful to a career.  

Take my FinCon example.  I know the level of SEO presented at the conference.  But sitting in a discussion on SEO techniques by a big time blogger is something else.  It’s not what he said, but how he said it.  You see, I may know SEO but I am inherently lazy.  So here I stand with a poorly optimized site.  But after listening to a rousing speech from the guy who founded Dough Roller. I was motivated to audit and revise our older content to fix my SEO issues.  It still probably won’t reach expert level, but I now have the motivation to eliminate the low hanging fruit.  Motivation is the true value of conference sessions.

The Real Value of a Conference: Connections

But formal discussions are not the only value of a conference.  In fact they are not even the most valuable part.  The real gem in such an event is the ability to make connections with others in your field or area.  It is not what you know, it is who.    

Real Life Trumps Remote for Relationships

Rarely outside of conferences do people who share an industry get the chance to meet up in person.  While remote work or contact can be beneficial, nothing trumps a real-life meeting for creating a relationship.  Those relationships can lead to knowledge sharing, collaborations, and even friendships.  

I’d argue that most experienced individuals can still learn a thing or 2 from knowledge sharing at a conference.  This is where the true new information and ideas are shared, not in the sessions.   After all, most truly revolutionary ideas are situation specific.  Only a direct conversation can get at the people involved’s specific situation.  Moreover, any one of us can benefit from the friendships, in a small world where the person may even be the next to hire you.  And of course collaborating can lead to greater results as 2 people can have a greater impact than one.

The Connections I Made at FinCon

FinCon most definitely delivered on those connections for me.  As a blogger in Delaware, I am on a bit of an island (or a peninsula to be geographically correct for where I live).  Even at FinCon, an event with 2500 people, I met exactly 2 other people from Delaware.  One is a soon to be podcaster and the other is in a slightly different niche.  It was great to meet these great Delaware folks.  But 3 doesn’t really a community make.  

So FinCon allowed me to meet people in my common niche that are scattered all over the world.  Connections I likely would never have fully made without a conference.  Sure, I knew the folks online, but talking in real life takes it to a whole other level.  These connections will be invaluable to this site going forward.   The same thing can be replicated at conferences in your own niche.

Choose Your Conference Wisely

Which brings us a bit back to my somewhat divisive comment on conferences being there to make money.  Conferences are not cheap.  Nor are they all equal.   Before signing up for a conference you should ensure:

  • The conference fits an area relevant to you
  • The conference will be attended by  new people in your area of interest 
  • You will have ample time at the conference to mingle with your new compatriots.

The Impact of FinCon On the Future of Full Time Finance

I want to finish up with some general thoughts on how this conference will impact Full Time Finance going forward.  On the motivational side besides the aforementioned SEO audit I will also be adding some new content groupings to the site.  Look for these over the next month or so.

In addition, I will be reaching out to some of my fellow bloggers on some collaboration efforts.  More will come on those as they materialize.  

Finally, I learned of some local meetups in Philadelphia and Baltimore around finance in general.  Given my whole point for the site is rooted in wanting to talk about finance I will be making an attempt to join in on some of these.   I would never have known of these given they are a distance if I had not attended FinCon. 

What do you typically get out of conferences?  For those that attended FinCon, what did you get?

10 Comments

  1. Marc
    Marc September 11, 2019

    It was great to meet you at FinCon! I’ve got my ticket for next year, so hopefully we’ll run into each other again.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 12, 2019

      It was great meeting you Marc. Not sure yet on next year as Long Beach is a long way from Delaware. It’s an open-ended decision, especially given how much work travel I’ve done as of late. I could very well find myself in the neighborhood.

  2. Actuary on FIRE
    Actuary on FIRE September 12, 2019

    I appreciated the level headed summary FTF. It’s hard to quantify the value sometimes since much of it can be quite intangible but thanks for trying!

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 12, 2019

      So very true. That intangible part of meeting all the folks I have been chatting with for years was the highlight. It was worth it.

  3. Xrayvsn
    Xrayvsn September 12, 2019

    Well put FTF. For me my biggest takeaway was meeting like minded individuals and online friends like you in person and making them real friends.

    I didn’t go to as many sessions as I had originally planned but do plan to hit the ones I wanted when the virtual pass comes out.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 12, 2019

      The virtual pass definitely makes it easier to not attend the in-person sessions. You can replicate a presentation via video. You can’t replicate hundreds of personal interactions.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 12, 2019

      Any time. I know of some great ones in the North East if you ever find yourself this way.

  4. Amy
    Amy September 12, 2019

    Great meeting you in person! For me, while I’m at FinCon it’s all about the people…while there were a few sessions I’d thought about attending, I skipped them in favor of spending time with others. I’ll watch sessions later in hopes of gaining some additional knowledge and skills.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance September 12, 2019

      I skipped most of them but did make it to a handful. I suspect the next time I get to attend I’ll pass on the sessions entirely.

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