On Conferences

I started attending Family Office conferences over 15 years ago. In truth, it was closer to 18 years ago. Which ages me, I know. But it also means I'm somewhat of an expert on the conference experience. 

There are two main reasons for attending a conference: learning, and networking. And though I'd argue that both are equally important, they can not both be the focus. Inevitably, if you try to have a conference with excellent learning experiences, you will need to focus less on excellent networking experiences, and vice versa. And that's OK. Embrace that, and know which one you're focusing on, then cater to that direction. 

Let's pull these apart, and start with what makes for a great networking conference. Thoughtful introductions, and time to get in deep with the other conference goers are paramount for meaningful interactions. An excellent example of this is the pre-arranged dutch treat dinner group at the Purposeful Planning Institute. John A Warnick takes time to chat with every single attendee, and thoughtfully places each person in a group of 6 or so for dinner, choosing dinner partners who's businesses and lives intersect. This dinner allows for deep and meaningful conversation. Another example is at Wharton's Private Wealth Management executive program, every single meal has assigned seats with specific questions on the table, in order to foster better connection and knowledge of other attendees. I should note that both of these conferences are on the small side. And that is yet another important thing to keep in mind. A conference of less than 300 can and should focus heavily on networking. There is more opportunity for strong connection when there are less people. Yes, time in between sessions is important, but using that time wisely is more important. 

For conferences focusing on learning, one of the most important aspects is making sure each session ends with something that the audience can take away. Something they can implement, or look into, or even read. Something catchy and new. Having a panel is fantastic, but having a panel where the moderator wraps up and ties in a book on the subject is even better. Or even more engaging, something interactive. I'm reminded of Joline Godfrey, and her use of play-doh. It seems minimal, but allowing people to fidget frees their minds to open and learn. Not to mention, the smell and feel of the play-doh helps with the later recall of the information. 21/64 makes sure every single session they do, whether it's a simple speaker at an event, or a two day conference, has some element of chatting with their neighbor to share experiences, and them bringing it back to the group. This is highly effective, because most participants walk away knowing exactly what they want to do to make provocative changes in their lives. 

In my opinion, a perfect conference can look like many things. But to me, the most important part is not to try and be something you're not. Oh, and make it fun! 

Family History, Part 2

Last week, I wrote about my own Family's annual family retreat, and the Family History project we were going to do together. Sciencemom asked me what my thoughts are now that the meeting is over.

Well- nothing is perfect. That's my first thought. And the family history time line was definitely NOT perfect. But, it was enlightening. I definitely learned more about the personalities of the first and second generation (as a reminder, I'm 4th Gen), as well as a few fun stories. I also learned about some of the major value shifts that have happened overtime. Some, likely because of generational differences, some because of financial changes, and some simply because of time.

So, the real answer to the question Sciencemom asked me, is that I think it's time we really took a look at the values of the family, and if all of them are still serving us. And if not, what can and should we do to alter the direction.

I'm not going to share the direction that I think we should go in, as that's completely personal, but I will tell you that I think it's important to let the NextGen be a huge part of the changes. And I look forward to being a part of those changes for my family, and for any other family that's willing to believe in the power of the young people.

A short interruption

Usually I wouldn't write a second blog post in one day, but I wanted to share a quick thought.

I've been spending a lot of my time in education and training programs recently. And I've learned two key things:

1. Be a permanent beginner. That is, be open to learning, even if you think you know about a topic. You'll find you may learn just the right nugget to bring things together.

2. The most important things you learn often come from the people in the program and not the teachers, so even if you're an introvert, like me, put yourself out there, and listen to the stories of others. They're so incredibly powerful.


Family Day of Caring

This blog post was first written for, and published with the National Center for Family Philanthropy. Because of that, there is a bit of overlap in the story found here, and in the post from last week. If you want to see it elsewhere, it can be found in their blog section:

One of the hardest things for any family, but especially a family of wealth, to accomplish is engaging multiple generations in a meaningful way. I’m convinced that one of the best ways to do that is through Philanthropy.

In the summer of 1999 my cousins and I ranged in age from 12 – 27. I fell somewhere in the middle, at 19 years old. Those of us who were 16 and older had attended our first Family Retreat the year prior, at which point we were introduced to the concept of our Family Office, and all that it entailed. Without delving into too much detail, I’ll simply say that it was both overwhelming, and exciting at the same time. We were hungry to learn more, and by the summer of 1999, our CEO had helped us come up with an interesting idea: a cousins investment group that was aimed at teaching us not only about investing, but about working together, and though we didn’t know it at the time, just about everything our Family Office dealt with, but on a smaller scale.

Our investment group, 5/4ths Investment Co, went through a lot of challenging times. After all, we were teenagers/young adults, and we had a lot going on, from high school to college to first jobs. Though a few of us emerged as more engaged leaders, not everyone was as excited as when we first began. In the summer of 2003, we realized we needed to make a change. In addition to voting for our first ever chairperson, we also started to look beyond just 5/4ths. That summer we asked the board if we could begin planning the family retreats, and make them more interesting to us on a personal level.

Throughout the remainder of 2003 and into 2004 we planned. But we felt something was missing. The retreats were, frankly, a bit boring. And followed the same pattern every year. Board meeting on Thursday, larger full Family Meeting and 5/4ths meeting on Friday, often supplemented with a speaker chosen by the administrative staff, golf for the adults Saturday, and closing dinner Saturday night. Though my generation typically spent the day together on Saturday, we wondered if there wasn’t more we could do as a family. And that’s when the ideas started rolling. I wish I could say I came up with the idea that would become a family tradition, but it was actually one of my incredibly creative cousins. We would do a family Day of Caring. Something that would engage the entire family- all three living generations - and bring us all together in the same space.

Going from idea to actuality was the larger challenge. What type of organization were we interested in? What type of work did we want to do? Would our grandparents be able to physically do the work? If they were able to do it, would the work be interesting enough to teenagers who liked to move around all day? Would an organization in our area be able to accommodate all of us, and help us find a way to work together, or even be interested in a one day project like this?

Needless to say, we accomplished our goal, and at the next retreat, The Parental Stress Center of Pittsburgh was the site of our very first Day of Caring. We worked on all sorts of projects, from planting a new roof top garden, to helping with painting projects that even our grandparents could assist with. Working together in this way brought us closer in a new way- not through financial gain, as did with the meetings, or food/alcohol as did with the dinners, but bonding over shared work ethic and doing something for the greater good. To say it was successful doesn’t give it enough justice. The Day of Caring has become an integral part of our family retreats. From the planning, which engages family members who might not otherwise stay engaged, to the day itself, we have helped countless organizations, but more than that, we spend time together, and we have fun!