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Looking Back at SMPS Southern Regional Conference in Austin

This time last week I was preparing for my upcoming trip to Austin, Texas to attend the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Southern Regional Conference, and as I’ve had time to reflect on my experience I felt it was important to share my experience so others can know more about this amazing organization and the value it’s provided me both personally and professionally.

Prior to departure, I felt both excited and prepared for the trip. I researched the attendee registry, outlined the people I wanted to meet, and charted my course through the sea of workshop sessions. I took off ready to introduce TOKY to the movers and shakers of Texas’s A/E/C (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) industry, and hopefully leave Austin a bit weirder than I found it!

Touch Down in Austin

I grabbed a cab and was introduced to my first taste of Austin traffic. I knew the city experienced a crazy boom of growth over the last few years, but the gridlock I saw during my short time here was nothing short of amazing.

After the scenic drive, we finally pulled up to the hotel and after getting checked in to the conference I did what any sane traveling business development professional would do: bellied up to the rooftop hotel bar, where I met two amazing (and hilarious!) team members from two of Texas’s most prestigious architectural firms.

Off to the Races

After my first encounter I knew this was going to be a different sort of conference, and as I walked into the welcome reception my suspicions were confirmed. I met people from all areas of Texas and was surprised to talk with so many folks from beyond the common A/E/C industries you typically see at an SMPS event.

We did the usual networking song and dance, but these types of exchanges are different at an SMPS event. People are genuinely engaged and actively listening, not just nodding and waiting to interject with a point they’d been stewing on for the last two minutes; the conversations here seem like they’re with old friends and everyone is there to help the other succeed in some way or another.

Later that night I connected with Nashville superstar and friend, Donna Corlew, who graciously invited me to join her and some friends for dinner that night. I met the group expecting a cordial greeting, as is always the case with Donna, but was surprised to see that her group of friends was a who’s who of SMPS royalty. I recognized both the past and current SMPS president from my time at the national conference last year, and met several other key organization members. Regardless of title, they all made me feel right at home and we had an amazing time swapping stories over some pretty amazing Tex-Mex cuisine and margaritas. Note: Margaritas in Austin are NOT for the faint of heart and if you order a second, be prepared for a late start the next morning!

Game Time

Seven a.m. rolled around earlier than expected, a feeling that may be related to someone encouraging me to order that second margarita (hint: it was me). Walking into the conference, I met up with my first scheduled encounter, sitting with a local director of marketing to share more about our team and hear some of the challenges she’s facing as a young, up-and-coming marketing professional in the Texas A/E/C industry. She told me she knew what her team needed to do in order to differentiate themselves, but was having a hard time convincing the leaders of her firm to make the marketing investment. Unfortunately, this is NOT a unique story and I did what I could to encourage and affirm the path she knew to be right. We promised to keep in touch, and in true SMPS form, I promised to help in any way I could.

Our opening keynote address was unique to say the least, but when it’s being delivered by an author of a book called Bring, It, Bitches! what do you really expect? Cheeky title aside, Kelli Gilpin is a master motivator and she shared a lot of lessons about her hardships growing up and the tools she used to overcome those obstacles. Kelli genuinely believes in the greatness inside all of us, so it’s impossible not to leave feeling at least a little bit inspired after hearing her speak. Between Kelli’s energy and the four or five cups of coffee I had during breakfast, I was officially ready to dive in on the workshop sessions!

“Create, Connect, and Command”

Those are the three tracks you can take as you navigate the various workshops at SMPS conferences, and the content speaks to individuals at all levels in their marketing and business development careers.

I may have been a bit biased in my first choice as I went to sit in on a session presented by my friend Dena Wyatt, who is an expert coach when it comes to presenting at the highest level. I’d never seen Dena present and the command she had during her session was impressive to say the least as I filled several pages of my notebook with the tips she shared. Hint: if you use the phrase “on time, on budget” anywhere in your presentation, you’re doomed!

Moving on, we took a quick break for lunch and I continued to meet people from all areas of Texas; I even ran into a fellow St. Louisan (shout out to Nadia Battle!) and we shared a number of stories before adjourning to our next session.

The next few sessions were wide and varied as I learned tips on how extroverts and introverts can work together effectively, the unique ways you can convert “digital touch points” into real-time sales leads (hint: if you don’t have Google Analytics on your website, go set it up now!), and some very useful tips from the great Susan Murphy on how to always present your best self in meetings and everyday situations.

I feel Susan deserves a very special shout out here because she has quickly become a great source of inspiration for me ever since we were first introduced at last year’s National SMPS “Build Business” conference. Susan has an addictive stage presence and her presentations always contain valuable insights and information that can be immediately applied to one’s own speaking repertoire. I seriously cannot say enough good things about this little ball of energy and I’d encourage anyone reading this to check out her website and follow her posts online.

After our sessions ended for the day, I headed to my room to get caught up on some emails and rest for a bit since I knew the evening festivities weren’t too far off. Later that night I made my way back down to the hotel where I witnessed a lip sync battle that would rival anything Jimmy Fallon has hosted to date. From senior members to newcomers, Sir Mix-A-Lot to Cyndi Lauper, we watched as the stage filled with the most unlikely of rock n’ roll kings and queens all with eyes on the championship prize.

And I Thought 7 a.m. Came Early Yesterday!

After a few extra cups of coffee I found my way back to the hotel and got ready to sit in on the final few sessions before the conference officially wrapped. In any other situation it may have been difficult finding the motivation to get out of bed and head back to the conference, but I knew Susan Murphy was hosting another session that morning and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see her speak again. As always, Susan inspired as she taught a few practical ways people can get over their initial presentation fears and present their true, authentic selves in various aspects of daily interaction. Although it did still feel a bit early for all the required audience participation, I walked away with a slew of notes and some actionable suggestions that I’ve already begun employing in my everyday life.

Unfortunately, my scheduled return flight required me to miss the closing keynote address, but I’m sure like all SRC sessions it was amazing!

Wheels Up…

As my plane sat on the tarmac, I sat thinking about everything I learned and experienced in Austin. I thought about the workshop sessions and the lessons learned, the follow-ups I needed to make upon my return, what my probable bar tab would’ve been had it not been complimentary, but more than anything I thought about all the people I’d met.

I didn’t waste any time wondering if I’d ever see these people again because I knew I would. SMPS is geared toward keeping people together and building a community that truly cares for its own, and this in my mind is the true underlying purpose of this amazing network.

SMPS brings people together to help foster real, meaningful relationships that empower and challenge you to become the very best version of yourself. The people you’ll meet here are the same that will bend over backwards to help you with a problem without any expectation of reciprocity. They are the successful people that will inspire and encourage, but will also be among the first to tell you they didn’t get there alone. They will expect you to pay it forward and you’ll listen not because they told you to but because you want to be like them. You’ll want to be that speaker on stage captivating your audience, to be seen as a category expert in your field, but maybe most importantly, you’ll want to be a good person. A person like you’d meet if you happen to walk into any SMPS function.