A Tale of Two SOBCons

A Friend, two Tribes, and a Gift

I have just returned from SOBCon 2011 in Chicago, my mind and heart swirling with excitement fueled by memories, epiphanies, and new opportunities. And gratitude.

SOBCon is a gathering – I almost hesitate to call it a conference – orchestrated by Liz Strauss and Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie. It’s the kind of event where you roll up your sleeves, check your ego at the door, open your heart, and build professional relationships that turn into…all kinds of things.

[Review of last year’s event]

This post is the story of what has transpired due to SOBCon, from the first one I attended (last year) to this one, which was held from April 29-May 1. It may be a bit long, and it definitely will be personal. It will also be a living illustration of what SOBCon is all about – being a catalyst for entrepreneurs.

One year ago in Chicago, I met Lisa Petrilli, and we became fast friends and collaborators. Shortly thereafter, she suggested we co-create something called #LeadershipChat on Twitter, which we launched last fall. Our approach was somewhat unique – building a climate and community that feels like a Tuscan family dinner table – and soon a pretty faithful tribe began gathering on Tuesday nights each week for these virtual meetings. New relationships were being forged throughout the months, and Lisa and I decided that it might be a cool idea to bring a handful of these people together for a REAL meal in Chicago just before the 2011 SOBCon kicked off. As it turned out, a group of 10 of us enjoyed a five-hour (!) afternoon lunch together laughing, talking, brainstorming, and utterly enjoying seeing LeadershipChat come to life at a very real Italian meal. With cannolis, of course (inside joke).

Also, I think I counted at least 7 people who were attending their first SOBCon this year due in large part to connections made via the LeadershipChat tribe. Since SOBCon is all about instigating new stuff, this brand of ROI can be called “Return on Instigation”!

During last year’s SOBCon, I was floating my long-standing dream among a few select friends about creating a professional referral network. I had already created my own referral business (Impactiviti) for pharma/healthcare, but what I really wanted to do was pull together a tribe of like-minded folks who could “matchmake” high-quality clients and providers through a much larger trusted-referral network. After a long pre-launch process building this in stealth mode (with Lisa and 5 others), the Connection Agency was made public – appropriately – the first morning of this year’s SOBCon. And, yes, a handful of the initial members have SOBCon/LeadershipChat roots.

So, thanks to SOBCon, we have a friend, and two tribes. What about the gift?

I have a growing and intense desire to see great people liberated to do their best work – using their best skills – in a business climate of trust. I believe a whole tribe of entrepreneurs can be unleashed with a powerful, supportive network. In fact, I feel that this is my life mission – but, as it turns out, I was working with one hand tied behind my back.

Because of a scheduling oversight, I had one extra day in Chicago before the LeadershipChat dinner. I had just written a post about Brand Therapy – it sounded like a cool name – and, figuring I might be able to do some good for a few folks with the free afternoon, I offered to conduct free therapy sessions for a few victims volunteers who wanted to get some clarity on their professional identities, direction, and brand. That happened Wednesday – and, over the next couple of days, similar conversations occurred with a few other people.

I’m going to let those folks, if they wish, describe those sessions in the comments. For my part, it finally forced something to the surface that I’d been struggling with for a long time.

This capability – helping individuals/companies gain clarity through analytical questioning and creative directive-ness – is a gift. We can acquire skills and knowledge, but there’s an element that almost seems like magic about a God-given gift. Using that intuitive skill to benefit others brings more unrestrained joy and fulfillment than anything else. But it also confused me – don’t agencies and career coaches charge huge amounts to come up stuff that just seems so clear to me after a little time talking?

I was so perplexed by this ability, so uncertain how to incorporate it into my business, that even when I’d be helping others see themselves clearly in the mirror, I was hesitating to see myself. That which was most intuitive – most me – made me uncomfortable.

So, it was a gift that a little group of people entrusted their thoughts and desires to me, because not only was I helping them gain clarity, they were helping me do the same. Sean will be a great DCAL; Greg will become the entrepreneur’s coach; Sara will build marketing starting with empty trays; Marla is the story-getter; Fred will become the pre-mortem problem solver. As for me, I guess I’ll be a therapist-adviser, which happens to complement rather well being the connection agent. Those who gain insight into their identity and message can also be connected to the other people who can help make things happen.

Thanks especially to Lisa Petrilli, Chris Brogan, Sean McGinnis, Jeanne Male, Anthony Iannarino, Greg Hartle, Fred McClimans and Patty Azzarello for listening to my visions, and putting to flight my perplexity. Your investment of time and your outside viewpoints brought both clarity and validation.

Maybe I’ll update this post with a list of the other great people I met, but right now, I have to go pick up one of my boys. Suffice it to say that many new friends were made. And, yes, I’m looking at you, Liz Marshall!

I feel a little funny that this tale of two SOBCons doesn’t include much of anything about this year’s SOBCon event itself – the great speakers like Michael Port and Carol Roth, the usual wonderful hospitality of Liz and Terry, the fun social events – others will be writing about all that, for sure. But I thought it might be fun to let you take a look behind the scenes and see the end result of SOBCon – transformation and business opportunity.

As many stated during the event, it really is all about relationships and network-building. And oftentimes, epiphanies.

That’s my story, and thanks for sticking with me to the end. Feel free to tell yours in the comments (or, if you prefer, feel free to use my post-conference review template from last year…!)


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

20 Responses to A Tale of Two SOBCons

  1. Jeanne Male says:

    Tis you, my dear OLD friend, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for matchmaking me with so many NEW like-minded SobCon friends who want to share while learning from and supporting one another. I heard Marla tell everyone she could about how you brought to bear what I have seen you do time and again…to cut through the clutter and identify corporate, brand or product differentiation and messaging. Marla and I are going to meet for dinner and I can’t wait to hear the details of your mastermind session together.

    Steve, this post has served as a springboard for my own post to help me to fully process this unique experience of immersive productivity. What IF every company culture could operate at the SobCon level?

    • Steve,

      I can’t imagine NOT having met you last year! Thank you for bringing such beautiful color to my life in so many ways – as a friend, collaborator and a dear listener.

      You are a true blessing to me, and I’m even more excited about the year ahead than at this time last year. I can only imagine where we’ll be in 12 months!

      Thank you for all that you do and all that you are in this world.

    • It would be amazing to see companies operate in a climate similar to what we experience at SOBCon. I hope such companies (or networks) will be built by those who attend!

  2. This is really a lovely post. So glad Lisa brought it to my attention.

    I’ve been really interested in going to SOBCon for the last two years, but this year I’m really regretting I couldn’t make it happen. The stuff you hear during and after the event are so different from what you hear about other conferences. To me, SOBCon sounds like the way Social Media events should be in real life – carrying online relationships to the next level.

    Thanks for this great post!

  3. Its 11 PM and I have a flight early tomorrow, so I will come back for a deeper post later. For now, though, I just had to echo Jeanne and Lisa’s comments. I’m so grateful to you for your time, your expertise, your spirit and your leadership. I’m blessed and honored to be able to call you friend, and I’m so glad we met this week in person. I’m looking forward to launching two side businesses in the coming weeks and months.

  4. So. For the past several months I’ve been struggling to begin a consulting business that might help generate some side income for me personally. I love many things about internet marketing and have a depth of experience that serves my company well in my corporate gig. I had been thinking about this for several months.

    When Steve offered to work with some folks to conduct a brand therapy session, I snapped at the opportunity. Ironically, I wasn’t sure what we’d talk about – my corporate gig, my personal challenges with the consulting business or the third hair-brained scheme that’s been tugging at me for quite some time. In the end, we had about a 90 minute lunch where we discusses all three things. Poor Steve got the full back-story of what I do and what I’ve done (turns out we have some things in common).

    About an hour into the conversation, (we hadn’t even declared that we’d moved into brand therapy time) he turns to me and says, what you are is a DCAL. I look at his scribblings on a piece of paper and ask – what’s DCAL? “You do Digital Customer Acquisition and Loyalty” – Me – “Holy CRAP! ”

    I’m not sure I can explain the way I felt or how the process worked, but it did. And I’ll even state for the record that I was a little bit skeptical going into it….

    We talked, and we talked some more. And then, in a moment of clarity, Steve was able to cut through all the detritus of what I’d been wanting to do and put on the table the EXACT THING that resonated with me. It was like he reached into my chest, grabbed my rib cage and shook me up at that moment. All the extra crud I’d been carrying around about what i could be doing or should be doing fell away and I had a label and system to take to market that perfectly described what I LOVED to do.

    Recommended does not begin to describe this process. If you have an opportunity to go through this with him, do it. Whatever he decides to charge, its worth it. I’m dead certain I will look back on that moment 5 years from now and declare it was the key to everything.

    Thanks Steve. I owe you, and so will everyone else that walks through this process.

    • Geez – I should have ordered a bigger steak for lunch! (seriously – the time together was a blast and I so enjoyed the chance to become friends and collaborators)

  5. mckra1g says:

    Thanks to you and Lisa for “showing people the way” through your leadership. I’m still reeling, quite frankly. As a direct recipient of the full velocity of the love and energy in that room/collection of souls on behalf of @WWDr1ve, I truly must say that I’m still sifting.

    That said, SOBCon is a non-negotiable for me. I’ll never miss one as long as Terry and Liz are holding this “gathering.”

    Thanks, Steve. Very much. Words fail.

    • Molly, it was great having you at lunch, and “passing the totem” so you could share more about your vision. I highly respect and appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish with WWDr1ve!

  6. Greg Hartle says:

    Steve, once again thank you! It was a pleasure sharing time in person and building a deeper bond. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and ability to help me gain additional clarity. It was a heck of a lot of fun and I’m excited to do it again. Next time I want to be invited to the cannoli party!!

    Love : Fun : Growth!

  7. Steve,

    Words cannot express how much you have helped me this weekend at SobCon11. Because of YOU, I am leaving Chicago with an invigorated perspective on my business model, the sharp focus I have been desperately searching for, two new kick-ass new tag lines which sum up what I do in the most perfect way and ultimately, the knowledge that I am coming to SobCon next year a very wealthy woman. Not just because of the boatloads of money I am going to make now that I know what my “irresistable offer” is, but because of the deep human connection and love you showed me in that room.

    You are the “Emperor of Epiphany” and the master of what you do!

    I bow at your feet Sir in gratitude forever.

    Rock on Dude~

    • “Emperor of Epiphany?” – look, if I ever turn to the dark side, send some Jedi knight to cut me down to size! It was a delight to talk to you during the weekend, Marla, and thanks for having thick skin when I was perhaps more blunt than diplomatic!

  8. Pingback: Lessons from SobCon, Amazing People, Incredible Conversations & Love, Liz Strauss | Girlfriendology

  9. Steve (and All),

    I am honored and humbled to call you and this band of sisters and brothers my friends. How amazing is it to spend time with so many people who are all so passionate, so caring, and so free to give what they can to help others?

    Getting back together with you and Lisa again felt just as if we had never parted–even though a year had passed. And it surely didn’t feel like we were getting together face-to-face with some new friends for the very first time. Some kind of magic at work here!

    Thanks for all you have done, and I look forward to the new project–and to getting the gang together again as soon as possible!


  10. I was one of the privileged individuals (definitely not a victim) who met with Steve on Wednesday for a brand therapy session. Steve absolutely helped me find some clarity on my professional identity, direction and personal brand. I know I have passion for marketing. I’ve known this was the career path for me since I was young. The problem is that I’m in a place currently where I’m not 100% happy, and know I need change, but didn’t know what direction to take.

    Steve continued asking me questions until I could clearly understand exactly what it is about marketing that I love. What makes the work worth it. What makes that passion thrive. I love making marketing strategies from nothing- starting from an empty tray. I got so excited once this topic came up in our conversation. This epiphany is some of the most valuable information I have obtained in a long time. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what it was; I just needed help bringing clarity to my vision.

    Once we arrived at this breakthrough we were able to dig deeper. I know I need a change in my career, but I was so confused on what path to take I didn’t know where to start looking – I didn’t know what I was looking for specifically. Finally realizing exactly what it was about marketing that makes me tick, we were able to discuss areas where I could flourish with that skill. Steve even had specific people in his network he wanted to connect me with. We were able to clear the fog and build the foundation. I found my identity in my professional path, what direction I need to move in to be successful and happy, and how to brand myself for my career.

    We found the roots, built the branches, and now I can flourish and grow the leaves. Words can never express my gratitude for this experience. I suggest you all take the opportunity to sit down with Steve if it is ever offered to you. I’m excited to see where this takes me, and hope one day I can give back to someone the way Steve gave back to me.

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