As most of you know, we recently held BGNLive! (our networking conference) in Chicago. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. Our members seemed to enjoy the hotel, the location, the agenda, and (most of all) the opportunity to learn from one another.

A big part of the formal agenda focused on sharing success stories as well as sharing tools and strategies that are working well with clients. However, I think the best peer learning opportunities are what happen off agenda, during breaks, and over meals.

I have attended lots of conferences over my career, and I feel I have brought something new and positive back from every meeting. However, it seems to me the more formal and “over produced” the meeting, the less real value I have received. In too many of those settings, the sharing among attendees becomes more of a competition than a collaboration. Each subsequent story and victory gets bigger than the last and just a little further removed from reality. I think, too often, people leave feeling completely inadequate and defeated.

Probably the single biggest factor contributing to the success of the conference wasn’t the setting or the content, rather it was the transparency and vulnerability with which our members came to BGNLive!.

Sure there were success stories shared, but just as important as the achievement itself, the stories of the initial struggles to get to that point were shared openly. That type of sharing empowers people to see that others have shared the same struggle, and that they have found their breakthrough.

In preparation for the conference, some of our members served as “social media guinea pigs”. They helped everyone to see that what today may be confusing and overwhelming can be brought within reach for even the most remedial of students. Having members willingly putting themselves in the “before” picture helped their peer group witness the breakthrough firsthand.

We heard confessions of those who “stopped working in the late 90’s”, but have regained focus and are enjoying new levels of success.

I overheard many conversations where the discussion was more on the bad habits that need to be broken as opposed to being a brag session.

I loved all of that! After all, isn’t that why you go to a meeting, to get better?! How can you get better if you aren’t willing to pull back the curtain?

It just makes for a more productive experience for everyone. Many times the way you will help someone (and find help yourself) isn’t just because you have found an answer, its because you have experienced the problem firsthand.

And guess what? That vulnerability will make you much more approachable as others have ideas of how you can overcome your next struggle. Or when they need help, you are viewed as someone who can relate and might have ideas for them.

Making yourself vulnerable like this is what truly opens the lines of communication.

Photo by Jennifer Boyer.