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Evolving the Conference Experience

In my Financial Planning magazine column, I laid out ways that the traditional conference needs to evolve, beyond the same essential format that served advisors 20 or 30 years ago ( I'm also walking the talk, by incorporating this new thinking into our Insider's Forum conference. Roughly 250 advisors will see these innovations first-hand September 17-19 in Dallas. (You'll find the full conference schedule here:

What new thinking? Here's a few of the changes we're making.

Education and training for a broader segment of your staff.

You know first-hand how hard it is to train your administrative staff in best-practices, office procedures and systematized workflows. Why not build this training into our national conferences?

The Insider's Forum includes a practice management track that goes deep into software implementation and systematizing processes. We've created hands-on workshop experiences for your key back office administrators and COOs.

A separate track provides education for your investment specialist/CIO, going deep into investment trends and ideas.

A higher "implementation factor."

Owner/advisors return from the traditional conference with new ideas. But how many of them actually get implemented?

We're confident that the Insider's Forum sessions will offer a lot of great ideas, and we'll help you take those ideas to fruition. Owner/advisors and their key staffers will have a chance to compare notes and make on-site plans for the changes they want to make. They'll show each other the new software, talk over investment concepts–and far more change will happen because implementation plans will be created before everybody returns to the office.

Better peer-to-peer interactions.

At least half the value of attending a national conference is what you learn in casual conversation. How do you raise the quality of these hallway/mealtime conversations? The Insider's Forum's target audience is the profession's thought leaders and most experienced practitioners. When you sit down at lunch, chances are you'll recognize some of these people sitting at your table.

Attracting this audience is easier than you might think. Most conferences appeal to the broadest possible segment–which is why senior, experienced advisors complain that they aren't learning anything. For them, a truly challenging educational menu stands out like a chess grandmaster in a football huddle. Insider's Forum will offer that educational menu for experienced advisors.

A better, more productive relationship between attendees and conference exhibitor representatives.

How do you improve the communication between advisors and the exhibitor members of their all-important business support network? Start by making the exhibit hall by-invitation-only. Only include companies that add value to advisors' businesses.

We also encourage exhibitors to leave the golf balls and fancy pens at home, and instead contribute a white papers or other intellectual property at their booths, and to bring a senior executive or portfolio manager for advisors to compare notes with.

Attendees at the Insider's Forum may not feel like they were whisked from the Dark Ages into a new century. But I do think we can raise the value they get for the important time they're taking out of their office. Come September, they'll help us explore a new evolutionary stage of the conference experience.