Matt and Enna Grazier, of Grazier Photography founded Inspire Photo Seminars with a group of like-minded studios. Thank you Seshu for inviting us to share our ideas about the value of “regional conferencing” and to tell your readers just a little bit about what we are cooking up for Inspire 2012!
We love attending conferences! They give us the chance to see great products, listen to great presenters and to network with incredible colleagues! We are excited to be at the forefront of a new trend of conferencing, which is the smaller more intimate regional conference. Jim Collins, CEO of Pictage, sums up the value of the regional conference perfectly when he wrote about last year’s Inspire conference: “the reason I love this conference so much is because it is so relevant to its own community.”
We all know conferences can be tricky … it’s easy to leave a conference feeling like you’ve just glimpsed the glossy surface of the topics presented. The irony for conference presenters is that while it’s difficult to pack rich material into a lecture spot of just one hour (the ability to do this is surely one mark of a gifted teacher), it’s very easy to fill an hour perfectly with a lot of inspiring catchphrases and pretty pictures!
It’s also common for conference attendees to have the sense that the best part of the event was the “in-between” time spent sharing war stories, strategies, ideas, and commonalities with other photographers. Our favorite moments at conferences we’ve attended are the most serendipitous – a chance meeting with a comrade who we get to chat with over coffee – or, if we’re lucky enough, while sharing a fine meal. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone home feeling incredibly grateful for these relationships, yet incredibly sad that we can’t easily continue those conversations over coffee, wine, or shared photography jobs simply because we live so far away from each other. Much of our business success is due to these photographers who have shared their own ideas and expert knowledge in happenstance, in-between, serendipitous moments.
Another common disappointment at the large conferences is that the talented speakers and experts who are the biggest draw to attend large conferences are often inaccessible, either surrounded by an almost impenetrable group of fans, friends, and colleagues, or just dropping in for their portion of the schedule and not participating in the greater community for the rest of the conference. Even if they work hard to be accessible, the sheer volume of people at a large conference makes it almost impossible to interact closely with these experts.
Each of the things that frustrated us about large conferences motivated us to put together our own conference that would address these three shortcomings and fact our approach to these shortcomings forms the building blocks of our conference community. We wanted to create an event that has the diversity, breadth, and spontaneity of a conference, but the depth of information and personal connections that are more often associated with a retreat.
Depth. Our sessions are deep. Instructors are selected almost half a year prior to the conference, and we communicate with them throughout the months that they are preparing their lectures. We give them 1.5 hour time slots for their sessions, and we encourage them to focus on addressing the needs of the mid- to advanced-level studio owner. We want them to deliver meat! This approach ensures that their content will be relevant to the beginners as well as the more seasoned photographers. This shouldn’t intimidate the less experienced studio owner, it just helps us make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the larger professional community.
Community. We have built the schedule and physical layout of the conference around the concept that the peer-to-peer networking and mentoring opportunities are of equal value to the conference sessions. There is plenty of time for impromptu mentoring and networking, and we also have scheduled time for 1:1 and small round-table mentoring with our speakers and several of our sponsors (for example, Jared Bauman of ShootDotEdit will lead a small group to whip their pricing and packaging into shape during his allotted mentoring time). All meals are included in the conference fee (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and we eat together. We have built plenty of time in the schedule for attendees to gather and socialize and because of this structure wonderful things happen! Attendees get more than an idea, more than motivation, more than a plan to move forward; they build real relationships with those who want to help them succeed… relationships that continue beyond the conference and are easily sustainable because everyone is from the same region.
The image above shows one of our innovations this year: a private online community for our conference attendees, sponsors and speakers. Everyone is invited to join and interact during all of 2012, including the months before and after the conference. Conference-goers can manage their class schedule, chat with attendees, speakers, and sponsors, download class materials, and schedule private meetings with others. We are excited to see how our participants utilize this unique tool!
Connections. Our teachers are not always well-known – most of them aren’t on the lecture circuit, and they haven’t proposed their workshop sessions just to become known as “rock star” wedding photographers. They are busy, hard-working photographers who are committed to raising the standards of business and art of photography within their own region, because they recognize that by raising the barre across the region, every studio stands to benefit. We’ve chosen our instructors in part because they’ve expressed interest in learning and participating in this community, and we pay for their lodging and conference fees to enable them to participate fully in the conference community. We know that part of the reason that they are teaching is that they also wish to attend – and not just as an expert, but as a fellow studio owner who recognizes that we can all learn from each other.
Regionality. Oh yeah, did you notice this word that I’ve repeated throughout this post? Region. Inspire is a regional conference. The national conferences are definitely important, offering polished and inspiring speakers with dazzling success stories, diverse trade-shows, and incredible opportunities to mingle with photographers who we either know or admire from across long distances. However, we’ve found that within our region (and perhaps others), photographers are starved for structured networking opportunities, and for relationships with local colleagues. It’s important to cultivate relationships locally: this networking provides emergency backup and other skilled resources within easy reach, and gives opportunity to become more familiar with the local markets. And, with enough critical mass, we believe that a community can actually drive the market – in style, policy, practice, and culture.
We have heard many photographers say they don’t recognize all the names of our speakers. While that presents a small marketing challenge for us, the tradeoff is that every single person who attends inspire – paying ticket-holder, speaker, sponsor, exhibitor, and members of the planning team – will benefit greatly from genuine, deep relationship building with successful studios who are right in their neighborhood. Our speakers are true experts, and we want to facilitate their connection with other photographers within their region. These are relationships that can continue into the wedding season and beyond. We’ve seen photographers meet at Inspire and hire each other as associates, cover for each other in emergencies, and share incredibly helpful information to see each others’ studios grow. We’ve even heard from one person exclaim, “I’ve vacationed with people I met at Inspire!” This was the biggest compliment, because it shows just how well people in our conference community can connect with each other.
You may work alone, but you don’t need to build your business alone. Everyone who attends Inspire finds a welcoming community willing to help.
Be one of the first 5 to use this PROMO/DISCOUNT CODE: 2012TIFFIN and receive $50 off your registration.
In our next post, we will share our strategy for choosing your path in a conference agenda so that you may leave the conference fulfilled and ready to tackle your business!