As I stepped up to the baggage claim to find my hot-pink suitcase and saw the chipper “Welcome” sign along with an announcement of the 109 degree day waiting for me outside I thought, “Yikes, that’s a boiling hot ‘Hello!’ from Phoenix, Arizona!”

For the last three years I’ve attended the annual National Speakers Association (NSA) event with a desire to upgrade my knowledge and business as a professional speaker. Soaking up smarts and mingling with inspiring speakers were on the top of my mind as I plotted out my schedule and event goals.

As always, I enjoy not only the content but watching the different styles of speakers and that’s especially true at this event. From the slow and measured, to a comedic approach, to a laid-back “I don’t care’ kind of attitude (though that one is particularly rare and it’s tough to pull off,) at NSA there are top industry experts on the stage to learn from.

My first keynote was Jennifer Keitt, who focused on encouraging speakers to get specific about who their audience is. This is a common theme at all the NSA events and echos the popular marketing method of finding your “tribe.” As Jennifer puts it –

“I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m ok with that.” – @JenniferKeitt #NSA16 #Influence16

— Kali Williams (@Kali_Williams_) July 24, 2016

Scott Stratten, author of Unmarketing & host of a podcast by the same name, had a much more casual style (which might be my biggest understatement as yet this year.) Though it looks like his keynotes are done pretty off-the-cuff, there’s a flow to his delivery that’s a bit mesmerizing. I 100% agree with him that “authentic” is over-used and that all it really means is to “just be you.”

I spent the rest of Sunday at his breakout sessions, though they were quite a bit more haphazard than his keynote. By his own admission, he rarely does “workshops” so that he can focus on what he does best and most enjoys, giving keynotes. That showed as he meandered his way through 3 total hours of “straight information” (as it was called in the program,) consisting of helpful advice sprinkled through stories, some rambling, plenty of bragging and thankfully, acknowledgement of the privileges he’s enjoyed as he’s created his career.

Turning down everything but keynotes is a privilege. I think being authentic is a privilege too. – Scott Stratten

My workshops tends towards a less-structured approach, so I appreciate the chance to sit in an audience and watch how that can be both delightful, and occasionally frustrating. In developing and improving my personal presentation style, I’ve had to be careful to make sure to give plenty of space & time to the audience for questions and clarifications. If it’s hard to get a word in edgewise, it can be hard to feel engaged in the session! In previous years I’ve felt like I had SOMUCHINFORMATION to share in each presentation, but I’ve learned that making sure to leave room for Q&A has only ever enhanced the audiences’ experience. I did take plenty of notes – his advice covered a variety of topics – marketing & social media, being an entrepreneur, building credibility & authority, making your strengths work for you and more.

Here are some of my favorite Scott Stratten quotes –

  • You can’t automate engagement. The only way to be present, is to be present.
  • Social media, you can’t take from it until you invest in it.
  • Your job as experts is to never stop searching and reading and growing.
  • Find those people that are in like-pain situations. They aren’t competition, they’re you’re people.
  • I have one job. To bring the house down when I talk. Everything else is just getting in the way.

Monday started (for me) with a panel, “Creating and Curating Relevant and Valuable Content,” with Rachel Weintraub, Amy Cosper, Patti Dennis & Heath Row, moderated by Kate Delaney. It was a power packed talk with plenty of takeaways –

“There’s so much sameness in the world. What makes you special/interesting? Everyone is in sales. EVERYONE. It’s undeniable that we still like connecting & that we do that in different ways.” – Patti Dennis

“If you’re building a business or a brand, you ARE in media. Go out there and experiment with different platforms. Be strong. Be brave. Be epic. And don’t let anything slow you down.” – Amy Cosper

“You better make sure you want to do this. Everyone will know if your heart isn’t in it. Keep working at it. Keep reinventing yourself in a different way. It’s gotta be fun. If it’s not fun, don’t do it.” – Rachel Weintraub

“Everyone wants to be heard. Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?” – @RachelWeintraub #NSA16 #Influence16

— Kali Williams (@Kali_Williams_) July 25, 2016

By far the most useful breakout session for me was Michelle Villalobos with “Small Events: Big Money,” talking about creating retreats, both as a profitable business model and a seriously powerful way to help your audience in a deeply personal way. Michelle created an energizing presentation specifically for NSA and gave a stand-out performance packed with useful information. I’ve thought about bringing my Ditch the Bitch Stigma message to women as a weekend event, and this session convinced me that it’s the way to go. She also emphasized shifting focus away from the hours spent at an event to the transformation acquired and articulated in a really practical way including how to actually DO that in the planning and marketing process.

“Information is not transformation.” —@mivi #NSA16 #Influence16

— Jill Schiefelbein (@dynamicjill) July 25, 2016

Tuesday was a bit disappointing because they had described the days plan (after the general session) as “Small Group Discussions – You Spoke and We Listened,” and had binders out during the events with what looked like sign-ups for various niche topics, such as marketing or entrepreneurship. But when I arrived to try and figure out where the meetings were, I was told that it was “more casual” and that I should just grab people from the hallway to form groups. It highlighted one of the more frustrating aspects of attending conferences alone, that if you aren’t ready to insert yourself into groups pretty much all the time, it can be hard to make friends!

The vibe at NSA is super welcoming and friendly, but even for outgoing introverts like me, it doesn’t always translate to becoming part of the natural cliques that form at industry events. However, one of the awesome aspiring speakers I met introduced me to a handful of members of the Northern California chapter (shout-out to Aram of,) so I’m excited to get more involved locally as I plan to confirm my NSA membership soon (aka finally!)

The mid-year event will be in San Francisco for 2017, so I’ll most certainly be there. If you have any interest in becoming a speaker, or even if you’re a long-time speaker but haven’t gotten involved in any industry groups, then I highly recommend checking out the NSA.

Check out my Storify collection of tweets from the whole event – and here’s a few of my favorites!

“You can’t put new ideas into an old mindset.” – @JenniferKeitt #nsa16 #Influence16 #growth

— Kali Williams (@Kali_Williams_) July 24, 2016

Speakers have one of the few jobs where the audience can immediately rate you for a job they don’t do. #NSA16 #Influence16 @unmarketing

— Monica Neubauer (@MonicaNeubauer) July 24, 2016

“If we can impact one person with one sentence and give them the tools for action, that’s value.” —@AmyCCosper @Entrepreneur #NSA16

— Jill Schiefelbein (@dynamicjill) July 25, 2016

Great line from @mivi Michelle Villalobos “You can’t turn a parked car.” Get moving and adjust on way #NSA16 @NSANorthTexas

— Chris Price (@ChrisPriceCDP) July 25, 2016

You only have to be courageous for 20 seconds at a time to get past your fear.” – @DARRENHARDY #NSA16 #Influence16 #fear

— Kali Williams (@Kali_Williams_) July 26, 2016