October 16, 2012


image“The SMB Exchange looks like an excellent initiative with lasting benefits. I’m looking forward to attending and participating.” — me

The quote shows my thinking three months before the first-ever SMB Exchange. Did the Toronto Board of Trade deliver an event that melded learning and networking?

Yes, exceeding my overall expectations.

Kudos to Ravi Nayak (Director, Membership Services), Alison Morin (Marketing Intern), Jeffery Veffer (Director, Product Innovation) and the others involved.

What Worked

The SMB Exchange sold out (say 150 people?). Extending the introductory pricing probably helped. Sometimes "sell out" means reducing the number of tickets and arranging the seating to fill the space. That didn't look like the case here.

Some people left after the keynotes by Peter Oliver (partner at Oliver & Bonacini) and Rick Segal (CEO and co-founder of Fixmo). Their loss. The breakout sessions were full enough without feeling congested.
We were assigned to different tables in the main room for:
  1. the keynotes
  2. the morning case study
  3. the lunch case study
Changing tables is great for networking and discussions. The three breakout sessions had unassigned seating. As usual, I sat in the front row.

When I spoke to Ravi afterwards, he pointed out that seeing one person three times in a day has more impact than seeing them once at three separate events. I hadn't thought of that but agree.
Case Studies
Case studies made the SMB Exchange special. We talked about our own issues twice during the day. We got nice, spiral bound workbooks with all the case studies submitted. That’s an opportunity to review the challenges facing attendees we didn’t meet.
Diamond seatingDiamond Seating
The seating for the breakout sessions was arranged in a way I've never seen before. Picture an open diamond-shaped space in the middle of the room with rows of seats around it. This structure encouraged discussions. You were continually looking at everyone except anyone behind you.

I expected the speakers to walk around like caged animals. That happened in the first session but other speakers sat down at one end of the diamond, which made them harder to see and harder to hear. Speaking tip: Stand up. You’ll sound better and look better.
No PowerPoint
No one used PowerPoint, which was refreshing and allowed the non-theatre-style seating.
There was plenty of time for discussions, though less than I expected. When attendees asked questions, the speakers tended to answer. The moderators could have invited more audience participation and asked fewer questions themselves.
While the speakers did mention their businesses. I didn’t feel they were trying to sell us anything. That’s refreshing.

Ideas For Improvement

As usual, there was some room for improvement.
Expand The Workbooks
Our workbooks were filled with case studies but didn't show the breakout sessions, session summaries or speaker bios. I found the two streams confusing and selected sessions based on the content. We were allowed to go to whatever we wanted.

As pre-work, we were asked to send in (i) an elevator pitch and (ii) a case study. Both could be combined by starting the case study with an elevator pitch.
Train The Facilitators
There's a knack to facilitating. The key is to stay in control. That means keeping track of the time with a watch to ensure that everyone gets their allotment. Otherwise, the people at the end lose out.
Capture The Memories
There was an opportunity to take lots of photos and shoot lots of video. I like putting as much as possible online but that might be too extreme for the privacy-conscious. As a minimum, a roving photographer and videographer could nab content for a summary. That's great for memories and future marketing.

Video is the ideal way to capture testimonials from the attendees onsite. Just edit out the bad ones. There was an email survey afterwards but the results were not made public.

Tips For Attendees

SMBexchange.ca needs more membersYou get more from learning events like the SMB Exchange if you
  1. Do the pre-work (which is about you and your business)
  2. Bring lots of business cards. They’re cheap and take little space in your bag
  3. Prepare one question (or more) per session in advance. If it's not answered, ask it.
  4. Take notes (which means bringing pen and paper)
  5. Participate (which also encourages other attendees to seek you out)
What happens after an event? Often little. The SMB Exchange has a special website to help us stay in touch (SMBexchange.ca). It’s free and currently open to non-attendees. There’s not much activity since there are few members.

I’m looking forward to next time.


PS The breaks could be longer but that would mean staying longer too.

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