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The conference is a very efficient way to assimilate new information rapidly. It is not a substitute for reading. It is a way to find out what you ought to read next.
A conference lets the organizer specify his target audience. Then he can design a program that lets members of this target group attend sessions for two or three days. He invites people who will draw a big crowd.
He hopes that they will also impart useful information in a presentation suited for listeners. Not all big-name lecturers do this. They give a good talk for entertaining people, but it may not be high in content. The person who is paying for the conference had better decide in terms of content.
Frankly, I prefer conferences with known experts in the application side of things. I want to maximize my return: conference fee, travel, lodging, meals, and -- above all -- my time.
Here is what I look for in a conference.
1. New information that is practical
2. Personal contacts: like-minded people
3. Materials I can take home
4. Motivational speakers
5. An action plan to help me get started
I know that I am governed by the 72-hour rule. If I don't take an action step within 73 hours, I probably will never take it. This is why motivation is crucial. I need someone to persuade me to implement the first step of an action program.
I find that the higher the price of the conference, the more likely there will be an action step. Why? Because a high-priced conference narrows the focus. The people attending are looking for ways to make money. They are buying motivation. They know this is worth paying for. But they also know that they need an action plan.
There are "eat, meat, and retreat" (EMR) conferences. These sing the old songs. They are useful to provide reinforcement and confirmation. They do not provide action plans. Church family conferences tend to be EMR-oriented.
There are evangelical conferences. They are aimed at newcomers. Conferences aimed at high school or college students tend to be on this type. They are very good for immersing someone without much background in a new worldview. I used to run the summer seminars at the Foundation for Economic Education. They were conferences of this type. They are usually inexpensive. Donors provide scholarship money to get out the message.
There are professional conferences. These are aimed at an audience that wants career advancement. The people are after contacts. They are there to network. The conference is a tax-deductible or company-financed way to generate business contacts. But they also serve as ways to find escape hatches out of dead-end jobs.
There are investment conferences. These introduce people to speakers whom attendees may not know about. Alternatively, they feature a well-known investment speaker who has a reputation as a guru. People attend to get the latest view of the guru, plus an opportunity to ask specific questions.
Summers are good times for conferences. People take vacation time to attend. The conference does not compete against high-value career time, or school time, or "I don't travel when it snows" time.
In this report, I will list half a dozen conferences that I think would be worth attending. I shall list them by date, since time is running out for at least two of them.
AMERICAN VISION, May 14-15: Worldview Conference
This conference is aimed at home school families. It will be held in a church that is about 40 minutes outside Birmingham, Alabama. I will be speaking twice on new technologies in home schooling and career planning.
This conference is an action-oriented conference. It is not aimed at newcomers. It is also not an EMR conference. Attendees will be expected to take actions within 72 hours. The list of topics is here:
JOHN SCHAUB, May 15-16: Real Estate Investing
John Schaub has been giving seminars for 30 years. His original version was titled, "Making It Big on Little Deals." The new one is the same as his book: "Building Wealth One House at a Time." It will be held in Atlanta.
Schaub normally limits himself to two seminars a year: one in Sarasota and the other in Costa Mesa, California. This year, he is branching out: the Atlanta seminar and one to be held in northern California later this year.
Attendees will maximize their return by buying a copy of his book and reading it before they attend. This way, they will be able to ask better questions.
One of the advantages of a Schaub seminar is repeat attendees. They repeat because they are looking for others to do deals with. Some of them have money and want to joint venture with others who will do the leg work in a different part of the country. The best place to find these people is at a Schaub seminar.
FEE, June, Three College Conferences
The Foundation for Economic Education is holding three week-long conferences in Atlanta. These deal with various aspects of the free market. If a student could attend all three, he would benefit mightily. This is likely only for students whose parents have the money, and who do not have summer jobs.
The FEE seminars are academic, but the information is not boring. The students are introduced to a philosophy of freedom that has implications in every area of life and therefore in the college classroom.
College students are under assault by professors who believe in some form of economic planning. A FEE seminar is an efficient way to inoculate a college student against the indoctrination of the typical college classroom. The speakers are scholars. They have the analytical system that enables a student to think through what is being presented on campus as academic gospel truth. They also have bibliographies for students to use in their research projects.
A student who is not exposed to the kinds of topics that are covered at a FEE seminar is not ready for college. Either he gets it from his parents in summers during high school, or else in a home school curriculum, or else at a specialized week-long seminar. Two weeks are even better.
With three conferences to choose from, FEE offers opportunities for students to advance their knowledge of free market capitalism.
FREEDOM FEST, July 8-10: The Gathering of the Tribes
Mark Skousen sponsors Freedom Fest every summer in Las Vegas. It brings in speakers from all over the world. There are investment gurus and ideological gurus. There are lots of booths. There are lots of attendees. This is the blow-out conference of the libertarian-goldbug universe.
What happens in Vegas at Freedom Fest doesn't stay in Vegas. It spreads all over the country. That is the whole idea. People attend what is the equivalent of libertarianism's Church of What's Happening Now in order to re-charge their ideological batteries. There is something here for everyone.
MISES INSTITUTE, July 10: Day-Long Conference
Because so many attendees of Freedom Fest are followers of LewRockwell.com and Mises.org, the Mises Institute offers a piggy-back conference. Someone who is thinking of attending Freedom Fest can pay extra money to attend a Mises Institute seminar. This makes sense for anyone who does not have the time or spare cash to journey to Auburn, Alabama to attend one of the Mises Institute's home-based seminars.
The speakers include four Mises Institute staff members: Mark Thornton, Doug French, Jeffrey Tucker, and Thomas Woods. Also on-board will be Peter Schiff and Prof. Tomas DiLorenzo. Prof. Peter Klein, a respected academic economist, will be lecturing on "Austrian Economics for Capitalists and Entrepreneurs."
AGORA CONFERENCE, July 20-23: "Assault on Enterprise"
This will be held in Vancouver, B.C.. It will bring together a dozen top-flight investment specialists, including Mark Faber (not related to Eberhart), the amazing Vitaliy Katsenelson, Barry Ritholtz, Bill Bonner, Doug Casey, Byron King, and Addison Wiggin. If you attend only one investment conference this year, this is the one to attend.
I think conferences are the best way to be introduced to new information. A good speaker can cover a broad topic effectively. It would take you weeks or months to assimilate this information, assuming they you knew that the topic is worth pursuing. You probably don't know.
In terms of a high return on your time, a conference is a good way to educate yourself.
Bring your business card. Be ready to collect new ones.
For a highly focused conference, such as Schaub's, read the guru's book before you attend.
I also recommend that you set aside time for meeting with attendees in the evening. A good conference allows meeting time.
The conference is a tool. Decide which conference is best in terms of your goals for the year.
I know a highly successful dentist who attended one of my conferences in the late 1990's. He told me that he always attends at least one per year in addition to professional conferences. He said this kept him informed about new developments in numerous fields. I have thought about this ever since.
My goal is to get one idea for one project at a conference. If I get just one good idea, the expenditure is a good one. My time is valuable. New projects are the highest payoff for my time.