Would you attend a conference featuring your network?

I've been using a thought experiment in the personal branding class I teach to entrepreneurial Fordham students that I think is worth sharing. I asked them to curate a conference--just as a mental exercise, not for real.

The conference format forces them to do a couple of things that haven't been easy to get them to think about and has a lot of potential lessons for how they think about networking and personal brand.

First, they have to narrow down a particular field. With respect to their careers, it's tough to get across why just deciding to be a marketing major isn't enough. They need to focus more, go deeper. Taken in the context of a conference, no one thought that a generic marketing conference seemed that interesting. We talked about focusing on horizontals and verticals--like financial education, technology's affect on art or mobile food. These intuitively sounded more interesting and I think it will help anchor students in their career goals--that specializing in a horizontal plus a vertical will help focus them.

Building out the panels is a focus on trends and news--but more importantly what's going on right now that people are talking about. If you can't, off the top of your head, come up with 5-10 panel topics for an area that you're interested in, than you're just not paying enough attention.

Speaker lists are a good way to figure out the quality of your network. How do you determine speaker quality? Do they have experience? Is it unique experience? Did they build Pinterest or comment about it from the sidelines. Being close to the source of trends and being unique seemed important. Building out a list of who in your field of interest would make for a great panelist is also a great target list for who you should build relationships with.

It also helped them think about what made *them* interesting. Are they prepped well for meetings. Do they have clear and concise answers? Perhaps there are some contrarian beliefs that they hold. Would they make a good panelist themselves?

It's been a fun and evolving exercise and I look forward to continuing to evolve it.