The Gathering: an unforgettable experience

I had an opportunity to attend an incredible conference in Banff, Alberta called The Gathering.

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The Gathering, is a prestigious, three day marketing summit, with leaders from well-known, top “cult” brand companies.

Sounds fun, right?

It was truly amazing and a bit overwhelming, all at the same time.  You’re trying to soak up as much information as possible, jotting down notes, mingling and networking, all while trying to remain fresh, energetic and focused.  It was crazy and intense, but yet, really thrilling.

Along the way, you meet beautiful, unique, highly motivated, like-minded people.

Let me share with you my experience of The Gathering!

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I remember the night before I left for Banff. Honestly, I was a bit nervous! Not really knowing what to expect and attending by myself, had me feeling a bit uncertain.  But the moment I boarded the plane, all my fears dissipated.  First off, what better place to host a conference, other than the picturesque, alpine town of Banff?! And secondly, the conference was completely sold out! A good sign, if others from around the world are coming specifically for this conference!

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The very first event day, I walked into the Fairmont Banff Springs Resort and was greeted by huge banners, a massive stage, and people scurrying around.  It took all of five minutes before I met other attendees.  Everyone had a different story to share on why they came to this conference.  Wow, was I impressed with the caliber of these new acquaintances.  I sensed, I was in for a few special days ahead.

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The Gathering was three days in duration. Sessions were held from early morning, until dinner time. I wanted to so badly attend every single session, but that was not possible, as multiple talks were presented concurrently.  If I can offer some advice, it is to pick the sessions that are applicable to YOU, personally. Not to your friends. Not to the other people who you’ve met. Not to where you think everybody else is going. Different sessions have different themes, so pick those that are relevant to you and your business.

I was so impressed by the speakers. Leaders from top companies such as Tim Hortons, Coca Cola, Spotify, Under Armour, Lulu Lemon, and many more, shared their knowledge and experiences and even revealed to us, a few of their trade secrets. What an amazing opportunity! Some of these companies have been around for 50, 60, 100 years and even though times have changed, they have adapted and continue to thrive.  I felt so lucky to be able to be in the same room as these entrepreneurs.

One of the questions I received the most from you guys was, what did I learn while at The Gathering? What did these marvellous speakers have to say? Let me try convey to you a few major points that resonated with me the most.

Here are a few of the main takeaways:

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One of my favorite speakers was Alex Bodman, the VP and Global Executive Creative Director for Spotify. He seemed like a really cool guy and I found Spotify’s marketing tactics really interesting. Instead of making it about themselves, Spotify makes their brand about people. They celebrate their listeners and focus on their habits, so that they create conversation and re-share content. I thought this was a brilliant strategy, as every customer basically acts as an “ambassador” for Spotify, without Spotify even asking them to be one.

Another interesting speaker was fitness icon Amanda Russell, who spoke on the topic of Influencer Marketing. I was eager to listen to this segment, as I am obviously in the influencer industry and wanted to hear her perspective. She opened her lecture by defining what “influence” really is. She said: Influencer is different than attention. Attention without trust is just noise. Attention WITH trust is influence. And social media alone, isn’t influence. Wow!!

I was really enthusiastic to see Janelle Shiplett, the VP Digital and Brand Marketer for Saje Natural Wellness. The main takeaway that I got from her speech was how important it is to listen to what your customers are saying and talking about on social media. She said that if you’ve built a community, then people are talking about you and your brand. You want to create space for people to come together. She used the term “friendly expert” – you’re educating but you’re also a friend to your customers. Talk about major insight!

Then came Diane Pelkey, of Under Armour. Under Armour has faced some recent trouble with the media, with past campaigns. She said it is super important to be available and transparent to the media, aka, don’t stay silent. She went on to say, yes, absolutely show your triumphs but also show your short comings. This really resonated with me, as I feel it is easy to want to hide from media or in my case, from my followers, if you mess up. But nothing is more refreshing than hearing somebody be accountable for their actions. We all mess up, we’re all human. People want to know your brand is human.

Another question I been asked was…how the heck do you prepare for The Gathering?

Yes, it’s a conference, but how do you mentally prepare? What do you bring? How do you dress?

Let me share what I did!

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-Pad and paper: It is information overload! You will hear a lot of people talk, so bring something to take notes with. Yes, today many use computers or tablets, which is fine if you can type fast. But, I am old school and think pen and paper is the best for brain recall. You don’t want to forget what you’ve learned, so write it all down!

-Business cards: Bring a ton of business cards and make sure they’re in your back pocket or somewhere easily accessible, so that you can dish them out! And ask for others’ business cards! This conference and many others are all about networking and making connections.

-Business/casual clothing: Don’t show up in jeans. You know the old saying, “dress for success”. You are literally sitting all day, so make sure wear something comfortable, but business appropriate. Also, be aware of the local climate.  Banff in the winter is cold, so warm attire is required. The only time you need to dress formal is for the gala dinner. The dress code for that is “semi-formal, cocktail attire”.

-Take advantage of the free beverages and snacks!! Lol. Honestly though. The days are really long, so an afternoon coffee or tea doesn’t hurt to give you some zing. Snacks are often available at talks, so it doesn’t hurt to eat throughout the day, to keep that blood sugar up.  Also, when it comes to the evening dinner gala, alcohol is almost always served. Don’t get tipsy and foolish.  Give yourself a two drink max and stay professional.

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-Attend all the events! World class conferences are not an everyday event.  Why not take advantage of everything offered?  I was there from morning to evening, soaking up every session. I recommend to do that.

-The conference is on time: Some events never run on time.  Not for The Gathering though!  They were pretty much on time, down to the minute. If you’re going for lunch and going to come back ten minutes late, thinking they’re running behind, they’re not! Have good time management and it’s better to be early than late.  You never know what you may miss.

-Take the free stuff: The founder of Lulu Lemon, had hundreds of free copies of his book for us to take home. Grab a copy! Take advantage of what these conferences are generously giving to you!

And lastly, the foremost advice I can offer you…  make a goal on how many people you want to connect with each day! I get it, it is daunting to network when you don’t know a single person.  Make a point of talking to a least 3-5 people a day. Introduce yourself!  You never know who you’re going to meet or impress!

If you don’t know how to initiate a conversation, my three questions I often ask are: where are you from, what do you do/what is your business, who was your favorite speaker so far. Boom. You’ve just created dialogue.

Whether you’re running a business, or just going to The Gathering to learn, nothing is ever wrong with continual personal development. The main theme this year for The Gathering was Empathy.  Conversation is marketing.  People are individual brands and people want to buy from people. And lastly, community is king!

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What a fantastic concept!  I will never forget this unforgettable experience and would attend The Gathering next year in a heartbeat. I highly recommend this event to all interested.  Who knows, I might just see you there!

-Jenna xoxo

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