Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Danger Within: Banking Conferences

The boss goes to a banking conference and senior management worries what new idea he or she will come back to implement. Sound familiar?

I'm currently at a banking conference in Florida at a swanky hotel that I would not go to if not for work. Too pricey, too reserved, and too old. But I can't complain. I'm waiting for room service as I type. The accompanying picture was my work view yesterday.

Most conferences I attend the breakout sessions to learn from colleagues and other bankers. But there is a danger to this. Learn what? I thought of putting a couple slides from a presentation I attended but decided against it for professional courtesy. Although I doubt that courtesy would be extended by the presenter to me.

Although the trade association selects topics based on what they perceive to be the most relevant for attendees, they don't typically scrutinize the content beyond the session description.

This could be dangerous. You are giving an industry consultant free reign to say whatever they want, right, wrong, or untested. As a consultant myself, I believe you must demonstrate confidence in your subject matter to influence the audience. But presenting your philosophy as if it were emblazoned on stone tablets wreaks of arrogance. And unfortunately, this is occasionally what we get.

My purpose for this post, if you are a banker or credit union executive, is to encourage you to absorb education sessions using the lens of your personal experience and common sense to know if it makes sense for your institution. If you are an industry consultant, bring a little humility to your presentation. You're probably not as great as the Caesar you see in the mirror.

How do you distill information from conferences?

~ Jeff


  1. Hello Jeff

    I prefer to speak with a lot of People at conferences, just to discuss new developments. Therefore the breaks are as important as the Panel itself.

    In the end, if I come out of a conference with 2-3 concrete ideas I am more than happy.

    Cheers from Germany


  2. Hansjorg,

    I agree that the interaction with peers at conferences is critical. The sessions should steer that conversation to issues / ideas of the day. Sessions should not, however, imply "do it this way" or you're doing it wrong, as was the case in a session I attended.

    Danke schoen my man!

    ~ Jeff

  3. I think this is one area of the industry that can be vastly improved upon both from an event standpoint as well as bank/credit union standpoint. After speaking at over 100 events, I have started to change the way I engage with attendees before, during and after the event to do real-time market research.

    Recently, I have begun to challenge those in my sessions (both breakout and keynote) to take just one idea back and work to bring it to life. People may agree with what I share or even disagree. My whole goal is to get those in the audience to think and challenge one another with new ideas (right or wrong).

    At the end of the day, knowledge is not power. Knowledge + action is power.

    As an executive, I want to ensure my investment for my staff to attend events like this is worth it. There needs to be some kind of accountability provided by the bank/credit union and even event to ensure me that if attending a conference, a person will be able to take something away from it.

    I know not all will agree with me on this point as many view conferences as an escape from the office and family. Being held accountable for attending these events would put many in a not so positive light.

    Recently, as an experiment and post conference engagement, I sent a highly personalized email to over 700 attendees that were at an event I spoke at.

    You can check out the posts and videos here:

    The email included a written and video invitation (above links) encouraging them to share just one thought or idea that they have taken back. Out of 700 emails, only 1 person responded. Just 1.

    I thought that people might be scared to share what they learned so tried breaking the ice with one thing I wanted to see happen post-conference. After my ice breaking comment, I sent another email referencing my ice breaker encouraging people to share. This time there were no responses.

    At the end of the day, would accountability increase conference engagement or turn people off from attending the event knowing that they actually had to work and think while they were there. Not just have fun, drink and enjoy the event city.

  4. That's an interesting approach James. I love your observation that "knowledge is not power. Knowledge + action is power."

    With regards to bank/CU execs posting their thoughts on conference takeaways: I think they are generally shy about posting on blogs. I get e-mails from bankers commenting on a blog post, but they do not comment on the blog. I'm not sure why.

    ~ Jeff