Jumping into the Get-A-Life Fray

Apparently enough Twitter prodding will get me to write a blog post about something. In this case, it is a conference, even though a few blog posts by other people have already been written about the “Get-A-Life” Conference put on by the Total Practice Management Association.

There is this post from my Twitter friend Adrian Dayton, this one from Allison Shields, a post from Dennis Howlett and, of course, the ABA Journal.

That’s just the blog posts. Let’s not forget the continuing Twitter feed with #gal09.

Last time I talked about conferences was more political commentary than conference summary. Calling conferences “wasteful” because a sliver of the industry appeared to take advantage of tax payer money was unnecessary. It did more harm than good. And thankfully, I did not believe Obama’s characterization of conferences. I’ve been to a few, and got some new business out of the “Get-A-Life” Conference, in addition to a couple from ABA TechShow and the CMSExpo. For a fledgling consultant like myself, such leads from conferences are extremely beneficial.

OK. “Get-A-Life” Conference. Things they did right:

  • Location: Hyatt Regency Chicago is not a bad place to hold a conference. Friendly staff, good food, nice rooms. Hard to go wrong.
  • Wifi Internet access: Present. And it worked.
  • Fast response to attendee needs: Lots of hardware for streaming seemed to imply plenty of surge protectors, but um, no. Not to fear. TotalPMA was closely monitoring the Twitter stream and came to the rescue.
  • Events: The dinner after the 1st day was good, and how can you not enjoy a Cubs game from a rooftop?
  • Topics: Useful, and interesting, for the most part. A week later, can still recall parts of a presentation comparing “law” and “business” thinking, or “practical” v “creative” thinking.
  • Speakers: Good all around; fairly dynamic, didn’t just stand there and read off PowerPoint slides. Gerry Riskin comes readily to mind.

Things that need improvement:

  • Breaks: Sitting from 9am-12noon or 12:30, then from 1 or 1:30 until 5 without even a 10 minute break, is mind numbing. There is no chance to absorb what the first speaker discussed before the next one starts. By the second day, sessions were all running together and people started leaving at the end.
  • Diversity: The majority of lawyers in attendance were bankruptcy lawyers. Seems as if the first step into getting a life is to not practice bankruptcy law.
  • Atmosphere: Felt a bit preachy at times, like I was at a religious revival. Such an atmosphere makes me skeptical, like there is a clear right and wrong way when, in fact, there is an awful lot of gray.

All in all, for a it being TotalPMA’s first conference, they did a good job. The true test though, as with any conference, is how “actionable” attending turns out to be. Many speakers stressed the “30 day” adoption, and encouraged attendees to go back and see what “actionable” items they can implement in 30 days so they can move closer towards getting a life. I’m curious to see:

  1. If any attendees tried to implement at least one “actionable” item (quite a few raised their hands when asked if they were going to re-evaluate their staff and hiring needs over the next 30 days)
  2. If any were successful and how they achieved that success
  3. If they weren’t successful, what challenges did they encounter

I’d be curious to see a report published that shows the real value of attending the “Get-A-Life” Conference, or any other conference. And especially in this economy where every company, large and small, is watching the bottom line. If there is not demonstratable value from sending employees to a conference, then the conference industry will move closer to Obama’s characterization as “wasteful.” That would not be good for anyone.

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4 Responses to Jumping into the Get-A-Life Fray

  1. Amy Derby says:

    Thanks for the honest summary and thoughts on this one. Still wish I could have been there.

    Coming from my past life of working as a bankruptcy paralegal in biglaw, I had to chuckle about your bankruptcy lawyer comment; it’s true. 😉

  2. Kevin Chern says:

    Thanks so much for the valuable insight. Your insight was quite similar to a lot of what people said. We sent out a survey monkey last week and have gotten about 30 responses back. If you attended, please make sure to fill that out. We are proud of what we delivered, especially for our first go at it, but there is always room for improvement. We will publish the results some time next week at our blog at http://www.totalpma.org. Also over the next few months, starting in a week or so, we will start publishing the sessions, FOR FREE, at our website.

    A couple items in particular….yes, more breaks are needed. We tried to strike a balance, but were so anxious to get as much content in as possible, that I think we fell on the wrong side of the equation. As so actionable items, I think we did really well and I urge everyone to try to execute at east a couple of the action items. The strategic planning session was intended to give you a methodology to evaluate what items would take the least to execute and have the largest impact. Instead of just giving you ideas and telling you to go to it (which can be overwhelming when there are so many ideas, we wanted to show you HOW to take ideas and turn them into execution.

    As to the heavy weight on bankruptcy lawyers…yes, true. The National Association of Bankruptcy Attorneys had their annual conference in Chicago and we intentionally piggy-backed to boost attendance for our first conference, and quite frankly, with the overwhelming amount of bk work right now, they need advice on streamlining processes to achieve work-life balance more than anyone right now. Now that we have shown that we can convey true value, or intent is to try to appeal to a much broader segment of the legal community. We have been actively reaching out to other associations to proliferate our message that you can be more successful and still have more balance.

    We are very interested in more input and collaboration. Please share your thoughts, good or bad so we can convey as much value through the upcoming year and for Get A Life 2010!

  3. Gwynne Monahan says:

    Amy: glad to have provided some humor. 😉

    Kevin: You did present actionable items, though I would not go as far as to say you did really well. To exactly how well you did requires finding out how well people were able to implement action items, like those presented in the strategic planning session. It’s one thing to listen to people talk, do a little role play with the people around you and feel satisfied. It’s another to take that back to the office and make it work. Without knowing if anyone attempted to make it work in the office, and without knowing how well it worked (or didn’t), it’s hard to gauge beyond the “giving ideas” step. The strategic planning session can be considered a methodology that, until enacted, is just an idea.

    I took the survey, and I wasn’t asked about success or attempts to implement. I was asked to rate speakers and topics, like every other post-Conference survey.

    You have a real opportunity as you have a captive audience and people are tired of talk. If it can be demonstrated that the actionable items presented at the “Get-A-Life” Conference are in fact actionable in a real work-place setting (and not just chatting with the people around or sitting next to you), then more people will want to attend. There is an actual measurement that sessions presented at this Conference do, in fact, directly correlate to successful results.

    And if people report minimal or no success, then finding out what road blocks were in their way will help you be able to refine the “Get-A-Life” Conference so people will want to attend again to find out how they can overcome road blocks.

    You’ll add a layer of sophistication and usefulness that no other Conference has, and quite literally help legal professionals “get a life” in more than just words.

    Nothing wrong with piggy backing another Conference. The initial impression is just that to get a life from the start, don’t go into bankruptcy law. Not only will you have a life sooner, but you’ll save yourself the cost of attending the “Get-A-Life” Conference. In both instances, you’ll be ahead of the game.

    I’d hope that is not the impression, or the message, you want to convey.

    Needless to say, I’m looking forward to “Get-A-Life” 2010.

  4. […] Jumping into the Get-A-Life Fray (Open Source WorInProgress Blog) […]

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