ROS – Return on SOBCon

I’ll be Chicago again this May to attend my fourth SOBCon conference. If you haven’t gone before, and if you’re a high-quality, collaborative, smart, pay-it-forward person, I hope you’ll join us.

Why the italics above? Because that’s what I think about when I contemplate SOBCon. The incredible people I’ve met – people who’ve become long-term friends and collaborators.

People like:

  • Lisa Petrilli – with whom I co-launched LeadershipChat after we met at SOBCon and began our years of brainstorming and collaborating. She is a dear friend.
  • Sean McGinnis – with whom I had lunch and immediately built a deep bond that continues to this day.
  • Justin McCullough – a spur-of-the-moment branding discussion (including Drew McLellan) during a SOBCon social gathering led to valuable ongoing back-and-forth over recent years.
  • Carol Roth – who greeted me with a bright smile at the evening event kicking off the meeting and has remained a valued colleague ever since (& congrats on the big news this week, Carol!)
  • Anthony Iannarino – a rock of friendship and encouragement since the day we met in the room at SOBCon several years back.

Yes, the content and discussions at SOBCon are valuable. But what stands out to me is the people who come together to learn, and grow, and challenge one another. People I now interact with on a regular basis, such as Lisa DiomedeBecky McCraySheila ScarboroughShashi BellamkondaAmber ClevelandMolly Cantrell-KraigMarla SchulmanJustin LevyDarrell DeRochierPhil GerbyshakLiz MarshallSarah RobinsonBrian MoranJesse PetersenChris Brogan, Jon Swanson, Alli Worthington, Angela Maiers, Lou Imbriano, Judy Martin, Geoff Livingston, Tim Sanders, Darrell Derochier, Fred McClimans, Danielle Smith, Chris Garrett … and undoubtedly others I’m failing to bring to mind at the moment.

Special thanks, of course, to Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie and Liz Strauss for putting on this labor of love each year. They are the heart and soul of SOBCon.

You want return on investment? Just look a the list above. All high-quality, collaborative, smart, pay-it-forward people.

SOBCon is not merely a conference. It’s like a family of networking professionals. If you’ve not had a chance to go – put it on your calendar!

Why You Want to be at SOBCon (even if you didn’t know it)

SOBCon2013Those of us who have attended a SOBCon gathering (the think tank for forward-looking business people) don’t need much convincing – when you’ve gotten together with 150 smart, creative, action-oriented professionals who are restless to shape their futures through smart networking and ideation, you view it as an annual pilgrimage.

I’ve been to three SOBCon get-togethers in Chicago – and I’ll be back this May. Past reviews on my blog are here and here and here.

SOBCon is not like a typical conference, where you get talked at endlessly, and mill around in large herds hoping to find someone interesting to talk to.

SOBCon is where you brainstorm in small groups, network with a distilled 100-proof group of high-quality people, and come away with fresh ideas for your business. And people who are happy to hold you accountable to get it done, and encourage you along the way.

If you want to pose and pretend, SOBCon isn’t for you.

If you want to be real and make progress and challenge your own status quo, you need to go. It’s the kind of place where you make lifelong friends and find unexpected collaborators.

SOBCon happens May 3-5. Sign up today (January 31) and save $200. See you in Chicago!


I Went to SOBCon 2012 and All I Got Was…

Inspired. Again.

Encouraged. Again.

Deeper relationships. Again.

New perspective. Again.

Validated. Again.

A chance to brainstorm and dream and hug and laugh and figure stuff out with a bunch of smart, pay-it-forward entrepreneurs who don’t mind talking about things like purpose and failure and love.

If you were there, what did you get? Add your thoughts in the comments!

A few top-of-mind moments that impacted me most:

>>Tim Sanders (@SandersSays) talking about purpose in a way that helped me re-write my own mission statement (“My purpose is to help people and companies discover their identity and purpose, and to create new opportunities for people to thrive optimally in supportive networks.”)

>>Laura Fitton (@Pistachio) speaking so transparently about her near-death business experience with OneForty.

>>Steve Farber (@SteveFarber) recounting how making a personal contact opened up a whole new pinball effect of new opportunities in an unanticipated direction.

>>Brandie McCallum (@lttlewys) just being there so soon after a serious operation.

>>Les McKeown (@LesMcKeown) speaking. Doesn’t matter what he says. I want to download his accent (actually, his presentation was great fun!)

Some of the great folks I got to meet, or go much deeper with, this year included Phil Gerbyshak (he of the multi-colored glasses frames), Liz Marshall, Jeff Shuey, Sarah Robinson, Brian Moran (imagine what it was like with the latter four plus Carol Roth and me at one table – trouble!), Jesse Petersen, Xan Pearson, Kyle Akerman, Nick Kellet, Jane Boyd, Patrick Prothe (finally IRL – where’s my pager?), Aaron Biebert, Christian Gurney, and more that I can’t recall at the moment because of advancing age.

And, as always, it was wonderful to hang out with “old” pals like Sean McGinnis, Lisa Diomede, Anthony Iannarino, Cate Colgan, Becky McCray, Sheila Scarborough, Shashi Bellamkonda, Amber Cleveland, Molly Cantrell-Kraig, Marla Schulman, Justin Levy, Jeannie Walters, Darrell DeRochier, and many others – what a great crew.

This was my third SOBCon gathering in Chicago, and each time, it’s been like walking into a gold mine of great people full of energy and good will. Collaborations and friendships that have begun “in the room” at SOBCon endure, and grow, to this day. How did LeadershipChat begin? Through meeting Lisa Petrilli (@LisaPetrilli) two years ago at SOBCon.

Special thanks to Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie and Liz Strauss for putting on this labor of love each year. The Portland version is coming up later this year for those inclined to spend a few wonderful days of retreat in the great Northwest.

SOBCon is not merely a conference. It’s like family. If you’ve not had a chance to go – put it on your calendar!

(Ha! Just looked back on my blog from 2010 and realized I used the same title to review that year’s SOBCon! Here’s a few thoughts from 2011 as well).


Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts:

>> Clarity, part 1: What’s Your Offering?

>> Clarity, part 2: Make Your Message Clear

>> Clarity, part 3: People Buy Stories

>> Clarity, part 4: Your Clarifying Analogy

Breaking Free of Powerpoint

I finally did it. We’ve had irreconcilable differences, Powerpoint and I. So, last Friday, I moved out.

I wanted to present in a way that reflected my style. I wanted to tell a story, not create a “deck” of slides. But for so many years, I felt bound to the information exchange methodology enforced by that tyrant of business presentation, Powerpoint. Even when I knew this relationship wasn’t working out, I found myself with one foot outside the door, and the other foot inside, not quite sure how to leave.

Finally, I found a way to start over. It was really quite simple.

Instead of beginning to create the presentation in Powerpoint, I put it to the side. Instead, on one screen, using Word, I started crafting the outline of the story. Scribbling, moving things around, totally unconcerned with format – just writing a script. Imagining myself in front, saying what I wanted to say irrespective of any slides as delivery vehicle.

I’m the delivery vehicle. The story is the presentation. That’s primary.

Then, on the other screen, a series of blank Powerpoint slides. On them, finding and pasting pictures that go with the story. Background. Presentation decoration. No text, because that’s in the script.

Powerpoint as illustration/analogy vehicle. Eye candy. It’s secondary.

Crossing this important mental barrier: If someone is going to ask, “Can I get a copy of your slide deck?”, I’ll just smile inside and say, “Nope.” Because the slide deck is not the presentation or the story. It’s a series of storytelling props.

I’ve seen this done effectively by others, and finally, I decided I’d break free last week (at Social Media Masters 2011). I think the picture above by Bob Knorpp (@thebeancast) wonderfully captures how much fun it was to present, free of PPT Tyranny (that’s me awarding Sam Fiorella his favorite social reinforcement, Klout points!)

There are magicians of public speaking/storytelling/presentation – Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Jobs. They all seem to break free of the information-dump style and tell stories wonderfully. Watch videos of these masters (or see them live if you can). Their examples have fueled my desire to “think different” about presenting!

So, are you breaking free from Powerpoint tyranny? If so, what are your methods? Let’s figure out ways to turn presentations into engaging stories instead of public data dumps!

Kudos to the Social Media Masters team (Kristie Wells, Chris Heuer, Sam Fiorella, Brandie McCallum, and others) for putting on an educational conference focusing on advanced themes – there’s still time to sign up for the Toronto and Kansas City events in October!

P.S. Bob Knorpp also captured this brief video beancast interview touching on some of the themes of my presentation, which focused on the future of digital networks/social media.


Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Facebook’s Secret Weapon Unveiled: Ann Handley!

>> Trend Currents in Social Media

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Trend Currents in Social Media

No, that’s not a typo. Trend Currents, not current trends.

Trend Currents are the large-scale cultural, economic, and technological shifts that drive our ongoing communications revolution. And I’ll be speaking on this topic September 23, at the Social Media Masters one-day intensive in NYC.

What are these Trend Currents that shape social media now, and will shape the future of networked communications? Not to to give the whole talk away, here are three main things that every marketer and business person needs to keep his/her eye on:

  • Ubiquitous Connectivity
  • Disrupted Intermediation
  • Global Individualism

Current trends are the outgrowths we see today. MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, Google+ – those are all (temporary?) outworkings of much bigger Trend Currents.

Wayne Gretzky put it this way: Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is now (paraphrase). By looking at the larger Trend Currents, we’re able to cut through the fog of current trends and see where the marketplace will be heading in the future.

Intrigued? There are still a few available seats at Social Media Masters – make your reservation now, and join Chris Heuer, Sam Fiorella, Kat Mandelstein, Matt Hicks, Sean Moffitt, myself and others as we explore what is – and what is to come – in social media.

The event is produced by Social Media Club and Sensei Marketing.

Post-event update: Bob Knorpp captured this brief video beancast interview touching on some of the themes of my presentation, which focused on the future of digital networks/social media.


Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Are You Suffering from JAVA?

>> When Your Branding Zings

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Twitter: @swoodruff | @ConnectionAgent

The Five People You Meet at SOBCon

After SOBCon, you’ll notice a number of tweets and comments by people expressing regret that they didn’t go, and/or mentioning that they’d like to go next year.

To entice you to take action, let me describe the 5 kinds of people you’ll meet at a SOBCon gathering:

1. Business people – SOBCon attracts people who are doing business, not just making noise. If you want to make connections with fellow entrepreneurs, this is your place.

2. Doers – many conferences attract thinkers and talkers. The people who attend SOBCon are definitely thinkers, and many have no problem talking – but there is a bias toward action. If you want concrete inspiration, this is a place to find it.

3. Mentors – there is a surprising proportion of people gathering at SOBCon who will very generously give of their time and expertise. We all need mentors. This is a room full.

4. Up-and-comers – both years I’ve attended, I’ve been impressed by the number of folks who clearly have leadership and initiative written all over them. You can just see that they’re going to be speakers in a few years, with lots of success to share. It’s fun to see the flower in bud!

5. Humble Leaders – SOBCon really is a check-your-ego-at-the-door kind of gathering. However, that isn’t forced – it’s just that humble, servant-minded people tend to find each other and come together.

You can attend lots of other conferences and find, in isolated corners and pockets, these kind of people. But at SOBCon, it’s distilled – 100-proof quality. That’s why it’s my favorite gathering of the year. And you can commit, even now, to next year’s event in Chicago at a very low rate (not an affiliate link – I just think you should be there!)


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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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