In a Nutshell: It’s human nature to want to be part of a community. Hosting and participating in live events is essential to maintaining a connection with your client and prospect base and to furthering your own personal development — even during quarantine.

Guest: Alison Rooney, Global Managing Director, Wealth Management, Barron’s Group. Alison’s team oversees the underwriting, membership, and content development for all of Barron’s live events, including over 20 conferences geared towards elite practitioners.

My Key Takeaway: To create memorable events that will benefit and grow your community:

  1. Delegate responsibility. A Barron’s-sized event requires a team of pros focused on specific details, but even your next webinar will have many moving parts to coordinate.
  2. Diversify your content. The broader your range of perspectives, topics, and speakers, the more likely you are to surprise, engage, and delight your audience.
  3. Never run out of coffee. Your attendees are going to remember whom they saw and what they learned, but it’s the little hospitality touches that will determine how they feel about your event. For virtual events, “coffee” might be a friendly thank you email or an exclusive offer.

Also Learn:

  1. How Alison moves from “ideas by committee” to one lone decision maker when designing consistent and cohesive conferences.
  2. What the big three reasons are that attendees go to conferences and how to appeal to each.
  3. How the content that’s most interesting to advisors, clients, and prospects has evolved in recent years.
  4. Why Alison always zeroes in on three or four people she wants to meet ahead of any conference she’s attending.

Complementary Episode: My conversation with Matt Gulbransen of Pine Grove Financial Group about how to create events that connect with prospects on a human level and turn them into clients. Listen/read here.

Resources Featured In This Episode

Alison Rooney on LinkedIn

“It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest Alison says this poem expresses her motto for living a successful life.

Values Clarification Toolkit Click here to download this FREE tool and start living your values.

Full Transcript

Steve Sanduski: Alison, welcome to the show.

Alison Rooney: Thanks Steve for having me today.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, well it’s great to have you here, and we just met not that long ago. I was able to attend the Barron’s Teams Summits, and you are the maestro. I would say you and Sterling are the maestro of those events and so it was great to see you there in person and it’s terrific here to have you live on the podcast. So lots of things to talk about here as it relates to doing events. Where I’d like to start though is I want to learn a little bit more about you. So you’re at Barron’s magazine. So tell me, how did you end up at Barron’s?

Alison Rooney: Yeah, great question. Thanks for having me again on the show, Steve, and it was an honor to have you at our event. But in terms of starting at Barron’s magazine, it’s actually an interesting story. I started out as an intern being in the HR department, specifically working on recruitment projects and a few others that they needed for that summer before my senior year of college. Following my senior year, I was offered a role in that department and was there for about six months.

This is general Dow Jones HR, so across a number of brands including the Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch others. And Barron’s had an opportunity on their team for me to join as an event coordinator and actually someone on my team in the recruiting department was going through all of the various resumes and interests for this role and thought that I would be a good fit. Before that I hadn’t considered working specifically forbearance or in the wealth management industry in general. My background by way of school was all HR, but I was very organized and a people person and they thought that an event coordination role would work well with the skillsets that I had. So I started out on the Barron’s team and through the years became somewhat of a nerd for the wealth management industry.

I started out by coordinating all of the details for all of our speakers. So at Barron’s we host around 20 to 25 events for top financial advisors a year and by way of talking to every single speaker about their session, their content, what they were interested in hearing more about, I learned a lot and it’s brought me to where I am today on the team and I’ve been there for about seven years now.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah. So today I think you’re the Global Managing Director of Wealth Management in the Wealth and Asset Management Group there at Barron’s, so responsible for managing and developing all of these events, and so yeah, you get a chance to work with some great speakers, with some great advisors and really have a bird’s eye view of what’s happening in that area.

Alison Rooney: Yeah, absolutely. 90% of our content is peer to peer base. So mostly top advisors in industry or perhaps management of various firms are our speakers, which not only interesting but very easy to get volunteers because everyone’s very willing to give back. But then the exciting part is that about 10% or so of each agenda we get to bring in some exciting outside the industry speakers as we call them. Perhaps celebrities or government officials, those who can inspire or motivate or give context to the current market environment that might be most prevalent to the advisers.

Give them some context for the broader world around them, not only for themselves, but information that they can bring back to their clients that they might find interesting. So it’s a really exciting job. I love working on the content and bringing it all together. It’s definitely a puzzle piece for each one that takes a lot of organization and mixing and matching and switching things up year to year, but I enjoy it quite a bit.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah. Well I think that’s really where I want to dive into then. You talk about the mixing and matching and just how you really conceive of each event because there’s obviously a lot of parallels here in terms of how you put a Barron’s event together and how a financial advisor should be thinking about putting an event together at their scale. So let’s just take an example here. Let’s take the Barron’s Independent Advisors Summit.

So I believe that’s a once a year event that you put together. So tell me a little bit, lets kind of go A through Z here in terms of you’re looking at putting on that event the next year. So how does it work? Do you start off with, we’ve got a concepting meeting and we think of a theme or kind of start walking me through the process of how you think about, we’ve got this event that we’re going to be putting on in eight months, 12 months from now, where do you start with that?

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Alison Rooney: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it starts with a much larger team than just me. I would absolutely not be able to do this alone. We have about 10 or so individuals who are specifically focused on creating and executing on these events. Everyone comes with a different skillset and ability to put together a different piece of the puzzle. So I’m particularly focused on the content, but then we have other folks that are specifically focused on the experience of the conference, or the marketing of the conference, or the graphic design of the conference and all of those pieces are super critical.

So when it starts, I’d say ideally about six months out, we begin talking about a given conference in what we’re going to do for it in that year. Each week we meet, everyone as a team to give updates on what we’re all working on individually. I can speak best to the content process because that’s what I most specifically work on, but it wouldn’t be done by just way of content. There’s many, many other pieces that go into that puzzle as I mentioned.

But for the content process there’s a couple of things that I’ve learned that worked most effectively. One is that content by committee sets you up for a disaster. A lot of groups that I’ve worked with in the past perhaps have too many decision makers on the content and they can’t agree upon it. Something that we’ve learned is that content is never, or speakers are never going to appeal to every single person in the room. Therefore, there’s no way it would ever appeal to a committee or a group of people trying to pick that content.

So while ideas by committee are great and I certainly welcome ideas from everyone in the industry, everyone on our team, individually, COYs, even people outside the industry that might offer ideas on what would make our content better, it really helps to have one person who’s the final decision maker for both efficiency purposes, but also just so that you don’t end up with agenda that is all over the place. You want something that’s consistent and even if you don’t name a theme, there’s an inherent theme that whines itself through all of the sessions that you’re putting together.

So I start by collecting all of those ideas from, again, various folks in the industry. Advisors themselves are super helpful for our particular event who are going to be our audience. We also collect content ideas from all of our sponsoring asset management partners. We collect ideas from various speaker bureaus who represent great speakers on the market right now. We collect ideas from everywhere and then I lay those out almost in a whiteboard format and I start to put together what topics we feel are most important to be discussing this year. Then we start to fill in panels from there.

Diversity is super, super important to us. So we try and diversify the panels as much as possible, for our instance by way of firm, by way of gender, by way of ethnicity, by way of experience in the business, by way of location in the country, and we intentionally bring together very, very different business models in order to diversify that thought on the panel. You don’t want to have too much agreement or consistency among those speakers because otherwise you’ll end up with a boring panel. You want something that’s going to be exciting and go in a lot of different directions.

Again, not every speaker will relate to every person in the audience. So if you have a variety of speakers on that stage, perhaps someone in the audience relates most closely to one of those speakers and can follow up with them either after this session or in the Q and A segment. I’m going off a little bit on tangent there, but that’s how we start to think about putting together that content. Another thing that’s super important and still under the theme of mixing things up year to year because not every speaker will appeal to every attendee, is that you want to zig and zag as it relates to the topics and types of speakers that you have. This is especially pertinent for keynote speakers. You’ll have with any event that you’re hosting in a large conference, many granular sessions that are specifically related to your industry or your field or the message you’re trying to convey.

But a lot of conferences have found great success in bringing in one exciting keynote speaker again that can motivate the audience or excite them or have a good leverage point for marketing the conference. This is where you really want to zig and zag year to year. So for example, the Barron’s Team Summit that you just attended Steve, two years ago, we had a legendary football player come in and be a part of the agenda and that appealed to a very specific part of the audience, but then the next year I thought, okay, who’s totally opposite of a white male classic football player and we brought in Tyra Banks.

Both were equally great, both were equally inspiring and exciting for the audience. We had packed rooms both times, but it slightly varies on who it attracts the most and that’s important in order to keep the entirety of the audience engaged. Then as it relates to closing in on that content, once everything’s confirmed, that’s when I can start to feed what content we’re producing to the marketing team and the graphics team.

Three of the things that we find to be most important for executing an event is understanding why any of those audience members or attendees are there. The three big thing that we’ve learned that they come for are networking, content and the experience. So I’ve talked quite a bit about the content and how you need to zig and zag and how you need to mix it up, how you don’t want to have necessarily a committee making the decision, but one final decision maker on what that content will be.

But equally as important are how you develop that experience that the attendees are going to be having and for this every detail counts. You want to be thinking through, is there enough food? Are there comfortable chairs? Is the sound good? Is the lighting good? Does it start on time? All of that is equally as important as any speaker that you’re going to put on stage. So we have team members that are specifically focused on this. I think it’s the most important role on the entire team because when you want to differentiate your event from others, people will remember the speakers, but they’re really going to remember what they felt while being there.

So you want that experience to be seamless and that transitions into the networking component. You don’t want to force that experience of networking. Many people come to our events specifically, but I imagine many others out there for the opportunity to network. But forced networking is like forced dating. It’s never going to work. So instead we’re really conscious to add in networking opportunities by way of breaks, cocktail hours. You don’t want to slam every minute of the agenda, and that way people can organically meet each other and create those conversations.

Naturally you’re going to have people that perhaps are a bit more shy and they want more of a forced networking opportunity, and we’ve tried some different tactics in order to successfully accommodate that. I would say it works maybe 20% of the time. For example, if you do discussion groups or a speed dating event, I think what works better is if you reach out in advance to perhaps some of those shy clients that you know aren’t going to naturally know who to reach out to or connect with once at the conference.

Give them a target list of names they should be finding or introduce them even via email beforehand and organically, but also inorganically set up that meeting so that they feel more comfortable. But again, it’s not a forced speed dating activity. We’ve found that to be very successful. I’m going to stop there Steve, because I don’t know if I’m going off on tangent here, so redirect me if you need to.

Steve Sanduski: Okay, well you gave me a lot to work with there. So yeah, lots of good things that you were sharing there. So let me just start with one piece here that you talked about the experience in how you’ve got to get those … It’s so important to have a good experience. I remember back in the day when I was running Peak Advisor Alliance and we would do these excel meetings, we did twice a year. We would put on these big events, not necessarily the scale that you’re doing there at Barron’s, but it’s still pretty decent.

I can remember it’s the little things that people remember. For example, don’t ever run out of coffee. It’s like something like that. If people can’t get their coffee or if you don’t have like continuous coffee service, like in the early days we would have coffee for breakfast and then maybe we’d have coffee at lunch and then we realized, oh my gosh, we need to have coffee all day long because people love their coffee. So it’s a little thing like that, that becomes part of the experience that you sometimes you just have to learn by mistake or not having it. So yeah, the experience is certainly critical.

Alison Rooney: Sure.

Steve Sanduski: Then in terms of like the content, so it sounds like you don’t necessarily go into it and say, okay, this year the theme is going to be X, it sounds like maybe that might develop a little more organically as you’re having conversations with advisors and with the asset management firms and potential speakers from the speaker’s bureaus that it just sort of organically might develop. Is that what I heard you say?

Alison Rooney: Yeah, that’s correct. We’ve tried the approach of starting out with a theme, but then I think it limits the ability for the content to be diverse and complex and cover a lot of ground. So I would agree that now for the most part, we collect all of the sessions and ideas and speakers that we know we want to have. Then we find a theme that we’ve through that. Surprisingly, 99% of the time there’s something that comes out organically and we find that that’s better than a forced theme. Themes can be good for marketing purposes, but you don’t ever want to have it limit your ability to have great content.

Steve Sanduski: Right. So you talked about the importance of diversity. Now, are there other areas that, in terms of the topics that you’ve had here, say in the last year or two that might be different than say five years ago or seven years ago. I’m interested in hearing if there’s been a shift in terms of what the content was at a Barron’s event five to seven years ago versus the type of content that you’re having now. Has there been a shift in what advisors are interested in hearing?

Alison Rooney: Yeah, I would definitely say so, and it varies. You’ll have your topics of the day. For example, a few years ago when the DOL ruling came out, it seemed like every session ended up being about the DOL. So those will ebb and flow as it relates to hot topics of the day. But overall shifts I would say that now if there was any hesitation before, all of the discussion now is on strategic team development, succession, finding great talent within this industry and bringing them up as leaders.

A few years ago it was more focused on growth and individualized marketing tactics. Now, everything’s really focused on that team dynamic and that’s even evidenced by way of our team’s conference. So when I first started on the team, which again was about seven years ago, our team summit had about 400 people attending each year, which is a great size for a summit. But by way of changing a few things about the content and the layout and the format and by way I think of just the industry having a different priority as it relates to their strategy being focused on teams, that conference is now seeing about 1,000 people in attendance and continuing to grow each year by about 30%.

So we definitely are seeing a shift as it relates to that priority. As it relates to the format, we get a lot of feedback openly and honestly that we should be adjusting our format, adjusting the types of speakers, having more speakers that are from outside the industry instead of inside the industry, and I certainly take all of that feedback very seriously and I think all of it is very valid. One thing that I would say that works well for us though is the consistency of what Barron’s delivers, and that’s something for advisors to think about when they’re hosting their own events.

Your top clients get used to a certain level of experience and a certain format of content and you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water and completely change everything and lose some of your most loyal attendees. So what instead we try and do is perhaps shift two, three, four things each year. So instead of completely doing a 180 on the event, it’s slowly steers in a different direction. So a good example of that is that five years ago we only had really presentations at our events and we learned that people feed off and respond better to a panel format that’s more relaxed in nature, conversational, candid, open and people feel more comfortable asking questions of a panel format.

That was a slow and subtle shift. We went from 20% of the format being that to 30% to 50%. Now we’re almost at 100%, but then I’m seeing a trend now in the industry where it’s perhaps leaning back towards presentation format. So you just have to adjust the format as it is most appropriate, especially as it relates to this new Ted Talk format that everyone wants to do. Is that the right call or do you want to do the panel format? You’re just constantly adjusting and making sure that your agenda is most relevant to the times and that the format is most fitting to what the audience wants to be experiencing.

Steve Sanduski: Well, since you’re talking about format, maybe this would be a good time to talk about the moments. As we’re having this conversation today, we’ve got the coronavirus situation, which has canceled a lot of conferences. So how do you, and I know it’s canceled a lot of Barron’s conferences, so how are you guys thinking about that? Are you thinking about doing virtual events or what’s the thought process behind that? Then a second question beyond that would be, do you think there might be some longer term ramifications of the event business as a result of this virus? Are you thinking along those lines as well, what that contingency might be?

Alison Rooney: Yeah, those are great questions and we’re in a very interesting time as it relates to live events. From a personal standpoint, from Barron’s we have unfortunately had to cancel or postpone any of the events that we’re doing through the summer. We are certainly considering other formats in which we can provide content to our constituency. So we’re in the process of creating live calls, digital study groups, online forums. We’re exploring all of the different ideas at this point and putting a lot of them out there to see what sticks.

For our particular constituency given the market environment right now, it’s difficult for us to convene a group for an entire day or two days straight of content. So I know some others are exploring full day or two day virtual conferences, which I have nothing against, but just for our particular group, I think it would be difficult to ask them for that time commitment in times like these. So we’re spreading ours out perhaps once a week or even a little bit more just to give some time back on their calendars.

But moving forward, I mean, it’s my hope that things go back to normal in the fall, but you can’t assume that they will. So we’re certainly thinking through what our options are. I think the biggest challenge in this is that people love live events, not only for the content, but for again, the experience and the networking elements of it and that’s really hard to recreate in a digital format. So we’re exploring ideas on that, trying to figure out what’s the best way to engage advisors, attendees, anyone within our network and have them come together to share best practices.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, and I think everybody is really trying to work through that right now. I know at my business we had to cancel a couple of events as well in person events and so we’re spending a lot of time doing virtual meetings. We’re doing virtual study groups. We’re looking at national webinars. So we’re definitely speeding up what we … and we’ve already done some of that stuff before the virus situation, but this is certainly speeding up and it’s pretty much the only option as we’re having this conversation here today.

So yeah. So lots of things we’ve got to do in that area. Now, how about if someone is attending a conference, whether it’s a Barron’s or any conference for that matter, what advice do you have for someone who is attending an industry conference for them to get the highest benefit out of it? What are some things that you’ve seen people do to really take full advantage of everything that’s available at a conference like a Barron’s conference?

Alison Rooney: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great question. So my first piece of advice would be to not overwhelm yourself and try and capture every single idea and session that’s being held at that conference, and instead go in with the goal that you want to have 10 great ideas that you’re going to bring back to your office following this event. Then it becomes less daunting when you’re going to a three-day event where you could be hearing, hundreds and hundreds of great ideas and it’s really difficult not only to take all of those notes, but then go back to your office and execute on all of those ideas.

So if you go in knowing maybe 10 is even too many, but I’ll use that as the example, you go in knowing that you want to have 10 new ideas that you can bring back, then you’re specifically listening and looking out for what those 10 ideas are. I think that would make you have the opportunity to enjoy the content a bit more instead of furiously scribbling notes the whole time and really embracing all of the different sessions, and listening in, and asking questions.

Which leads me into my next point is that I think, a stagnant participant in the conference doesn’t do you a whole bunch of good. Instead, you want to be a very active participant. You want to be asking questions. This is your opportunity. You’re in a room full of incredibly successful, smart advisors in our case. What can you ask them? What can you get out of it? Have questions in advance. Take a look at the agenda, know who you want to hear from and what you might want to be asking them more about.

Then the third thing is, again, this networking opportunity is really special. So if you are more shy or cocktail parties intimidate you, which they do for me as well. I go to a lot of industry events and it’s not my nature to be all over the room introducing myself to everyone. So instead, a tip I do for myself is I pick three people for each networking event that any conference is hosting that I know I want to find and have a conversation with. Again, that for me quantifies the amount that I’m trying to achieve. Once I’ve done it, I feel great about it because I’ve had three really great substantive conversations and I can check that box of taking advantage of the opportunity to network. So that’s what I would offer as suggestions for any of our attendees.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, and that networking point, I love that one. I know a lot of conferences these days are, well, maybe not a lot, but certainly some are publishing their attendee lists. So when I see that maybe I get to see them because I’m a speaker at some of these. But what I do then is I’ll pour through the list and I’ll try and identify, just like you just said there. You pick three people that you want to meet.

So I’ll go through the list and say oh, I want to talk to that person or that person,” and then I’ll reach out to them. I’ll shoot them an email and say, “Hey, I see we’re going to be at the same conference, hoping we can get together, here’s my cell phone lets text each other when we’re there and let’s try and find a time to connect.” So I’m trying to plan those in advance and that’s worked out really well too. So yeah, the networking certainly is a key piece there for sure.

Alison Rooney: Absolutely.

Steve Sanduski: All right. Let’s talk a little bit about advisor events. So we’ve gotten a little peek behind the curtain here in terms of how Barron’s thinks about its events, but let’s talk about at an advisor level. So what are some of the different kinds of events that you’ve seen advisors do that have been successful as they’re working with their clients and potential clients?

Alison Rooney: Sure. Yeah. I’ve seen many, many great examples, and I think each advisor before they’re hosting any kind of event needs to first think about their audience space and what would be of most value to them because each advisor is going to have a very unique set of clients that they’re trying to expose to an event like this and also give them a really great experience. But I can give you a couple examples of those that I think have worked really well. One in particular is a woman in the Midwest who was a top Barron’s ranked advisor. The small group dinners of all women, and for each dinner she asked each of her clients to bring one other woman who they think will really enjoy that dinner.

Once they get there, they don’t talk about the markets, they don’t talk about investing in any capacity, but they have some kind of theme or perhaps they bring in some kind of interesting speaker, completely unrelated to wealth management and they just get a discussion going and it’s a really unique opportunity to have a discussion among women in your community and she kept them at about 12 people. So they feel like they’re a part of an exclusive community that they were only able to get access to through this advisor.

Alison Rooney: She wasn’t selling them on her services. At no point did she ask them to become client. She really is just doing this as a service to the women in the community. She said, a lot of the times you don’t get all of the women that attend as clients, but if you can transition two out of every dinner that’s worth it from her perspective. So I think that’s worked really well. Again, the points there being that it feels very exclusive, it’s very intentional on what she’s trying to achieve and it also engages your current clients and increases their loyalty.

On the complete opposite spectrum, I know groups that do very large symposiums and this is for larger firms that have much more to offer in terms of content and resources and interesting ideas for a three-day event where they can put on sessions and bring in outside speakers and talk about a variety of topics that relate to their client base and they invite all of their clients and then more. So they might have hundreds if not thousands of people there and that’s very different. It’s not as targeted and you’re relying less on the exclusivity of the event and more on the ability to shine light on all of the great resources and content your firm can offer. Those are two examples.

Alison Rooney: Another example of two great advisors in New York City, they bring together all of the children of their high net worth clients to talk about buying a house and getting married and all of these topics that are super important to say someone in their early 20s and that creates really great stickiness to the next generation, and that’s the point of them doing these client events. So I think there’s a variety of formats. You just need to start with what you’re trying to achieve and the group that you’re trying to achieve it with and then you can create really great opportunities.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, I think there’s just so many different options in terms of the kinds of events that folks can do. So you mentioned the advisors that were doing the events for the children of their clients. I mean, I love that idea getting the next generation, but it also shows that you don’t have to just do events that are investment related, that there can be social events, there can be just pure educational events. There can be events that combine both of those.

I know obviously lots of advisors do like holiday brunches around Christmas time and people do summer events, outdoor barbecues for example. So you’re really only limited by your imagination and I’m a huge fan of advisors doing events. I just think in this day and age that it’s so important that we continue to build that community with our clients and around our clients and help our clients build little communities among themselves as well.

So I think any opportunities that advisors can take here to bring their clients together, whether it’s in the small groups like the dinner that you mentioned, or whether it’s in a large three-day symposium, which is a … that’s like doing on a Barron’s event at an advisor level. Sometimes I think you might be able to partner with other organizations in town and maybe you’re part of a larger event and can be part of that. So I think there’s a lot of creativity that can go in there.

Alison Rooney: Absolutely. It’s a great way to get referrals without having directly asking your clients. So I’m a huge fan of advisors that put on successful events. Again, you can adjust the format to what fits not only your style, but what you know your clients will engage in and the options are endless.

Steve Sanduski: Now, do you have any do’s and don’ts here? Things that you’ve learned over the years as it relates to putting on these events? Some of the street lessons that you’ve learned in terms of, here’s what you should think about or things that you shouldn’t do to make sure that you put on a great event.

Alison Rooney: Yeah, that’s a great question. In terms of the do, I can reemphasize some points that I made earlier, one of which is divide and conquer all of the different facets of the event that needs to be executed on and then have one person who project leads through that entire process. So on our team, Erin Shelley is the director of events and she makes sure that everything is getting done by a specific time and that’s super important to the process.

The second thing is to not overlook the small details. You mentioned the ability to just have coffee at every break and never run out. That can be a huge deterrent on the experience. So again, making sure that chairs are comfortable, making sure that you start on time, you’d be so shocked to hear how upset people get when you aren’t valuing their time by way of starting late. We are super, super specific about the time that we start at.

We want to make sure that you leave time for networking. If you slam the agenda back to back with sessions, yes, you’re getting in more content, but you’re leaving out one of the most important elements of hosting an event. I could probably go on. There are a number of things that you should do, and here are the things that you shouldn’t. That’s harder and probably more subjective. For us it’s probably the opposite of anything I just said. Again don’t go over. I’ve been in the back of the room cutting speakers talks and making sure that things are timely, because that’s the number one asset, especially with any successful advisor is time. So you never want it to make it look and feel like you aren’t respecting that.

Another don’t, going back to my point earlier of diversity. This industry is still struggling to be as diverse as it should be and it’s making strides but it’s not there yet, but one thing you can do, especially from a conference organizer standpoint, is make the effort to have that diversity on your stage. So the don’t there being, having only older white gentleman, not that there’s anything wrong with them, they add great value and great content, but having that diversity of thought and diversity of background is super important.

I’d say the only other don’t is, for your sponsors of the event. They’re super critical and not only have they invested in the experience, but they can provide really great value as it relates to content. So you never want to overlook their value or their ability to contribute to the event in some capacity. So the more you can get creative in how they can participate that’s great. We, for example, last year, realized that it’s difficult to get every single sponsor on the main stage or even in a breakout.

So we started investment labs, which were smaller group discussions on a specific topic or theme as it relates to investments. It allowed the sponsor to show their area of expertise, but also advisors were consistently asking me for the experience of coming together in a smaller group to learn in more of a classroom format as opposed to a large audience with hundreds of people in it, and those worked out very successfully and the sponsors were very receptive to it. So don’t undervalue what value they can bring. They’ve got a ton of expertise in this industry, and they can make or break the experience for your attendees as well.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah. So a couple of things you touched on there when you were just talking about the sponsors. Absolutely, they obviously have tremendous depth and breadth that they can bring to the table here. You also talked about diversity and I just want to kind of double click on that as well and just how important that is. What I find is that I’m always looking to talk to diverse people, to get diverse opinions because I don’t want to be pigeonholed into just one lane and kind of get in the echo chamber of hearing the same thing from the same people.

So I think in addition to just being the right thing to do, I think it’s also helpful when you can hear from a lot of different people, a lot of different backgrounds, their experiences, and then you just connect the dots, because if we’re all hearing from the same people, we’re going to come to the same conclusions, we’re going to get group think and that’s not necessarily always the best thing. So I think if you’re organizing an event, just really be conscious of having a very diverse group of people, diverse voices that you’re going to hear from, and not only are you going to have a great experience doing that, but you’re also going to learn so much. It’s going to be great for your attendees as well.

Alison Rooney: Absolutely.

Steve Sanduski: All right. Well Alison, as we get ready to wrap up here, let’s just go into a couple more things here. One is, I always like to ask if there’s anything else that you want to mention here that we haven’t talked about yet.

Alison Rooney: Yeah, there’s one thing that I would offer as a piece of advice in terms of hosting a successful event, and that’s thinking through who your audience is going to be. We have the fortune of having a very narrowed in audience by way of top financial advisors. It’s a very defined and exclusive group and therefore they’re very interested to connect with one another. You don’t want to only think through the perspective of who you want to have in the audience, but think of it from the audience member perspective. Who do they want to be surrounded with at the event?

So if you’re trying to host an event and you’re inviting anyone and everyone, that could hinder you to some extent. Perhaps you’ll get a decent group and it will be diversified, but it’s not going to have as much meaning if you instead pick a very specific subset of an audience and focus in on them connecting, them networking. So for example, if you’re an advisor and you serve a variety of types of clients, maybe think about having an event only for your advisors who are doctors and talk about the various issues that they face, or have an event specifically for business owners or lawyers. It could be anything, specifically for women. You can slice it and dice it in a variety of ways, but I think from an audience member, from an attending member’s perspective, if they can relate and ask questions of the folks around them, that’s super important to the success of your event.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, exactly. And I think the more that you can tailor your content to the specific audience, the better. I’m thinking of an advisor that I work with and he recently put on a webinar targeted to business owners. So it was him interviewing a person who was actually a doctor, but also this doctor had some military background. This doctor was also very experienced in the leadership roles within hospital system, crisis response situations, and so the event was really designed to talk about leading through a crisis, the coronavirus crisis in particular.

So it was very targeted, and so they were going after the business audience and they had a very tailored message to that audience. I can think of lots of other examples as well of things that advisors can be doing in terms of creating specific content that’s targeted to specific audience, kind of the target marketing, niche marketing is certainly important. Not only today but throughout time as well.

Alison Rooney: Absolutely.

Steve Sanduski: All right. I’d also love to hear, you have interviewed a lot of interesting people. So the event I was at, you were talking to Tyra Banks on stage, I would love to hear what that experience was like, and was there anything … what did you learn from her? Any aha’s or interesting insights with your experience interviewing Tyra Banks?

Alison Rooney: Yeah, that was really fun and a highlight for me of my life to be honest. She was amazing. The one thing I have against her, she did show up late. So if you end up learning anything from this podcast, we don’t like that, but no, I’m only kidding. Once she was on stage, she was fantastic. I think the number one lesson that I took away from her, and we’ve said it many times in our office since is, different is better than better. We really let that sink in and realize that if you can differentiate yourself, you don’t have to have the best of every element of an event, but if you can find what makes you different, and even from a personal standpoint, doesn’t have to be from an event standpoint and super pertinent to advisors.

If you can find what makes you different, you can use that with any of your client prospects in order to get them to be future clients and by only saying you’re better than the best or better than the rest, it’s not going to get you far. Instead, you want to have that unique identifier and unique differentiator to help you with any perspective clients.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, and I love that conversation that you two had. You had such a smooth cadence. You obviously were both having a good time together and I love the stories that she was telling about her mother. So she really had some wonderful stories and I think not only did I enjoy it, I think everyone in the audience enjoyed it as well. How about anyone else that you had a conversation with that something really sticks out from that conversation?

Alison Rooney: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of people now, but one of the most recent individuals that surprised me in a good way was Jo Malone. So many of you might be familiar with her fragrance line, Jo Malone, but she since has to sold the Estée Lauder and now she owns a new fragrance line Jo Love. But she had an incredible amount of adversity. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. She didn’t think she was going to be able to have children. Her life was turned upside down and she was able to fight through all of that and come out on the other end, so successful, a lovely individual, open, honest, candid.

This was at our Barron’s Women’s Summit hosted in December and I think she surprised and delighted the audience in ways that they weren’t expecting. She is incredible entrepreneur and she created this fragrance business from her apartment and with no money or background. She just had what some say is a supersonic nose and it’s led her to be this very successful business woman and she’s gone very far. I think the biggest lesson that we took away from her is just the ability to overcome adversity and take things one day at a time.

I think that’s super pertinent in what we’re experiencing today here with the coronavirus and everyone’s daily life, daily schedule, for the next couple of months is completely disrupted, but taking that one day at a time and coming out on the other end, knowing it’ll be different, but it will be successful in its own way is super comforting and that was a great message that she shared with us.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, that idea of overcoming adversity, certainly appropriate in the times that we find ourselves in here today. Well, Alison, let’s go ahead and wrap up here with a few rapid fire questions. So are you ready to get on the hot seat here?

Alison Rooney: Yes, I’m ready.

Steve Sanduski: Okay. All right. So I’m all about learning. I’m all about improving. So I would love to hear if there’s a new skill that you’re working on that you’re trying to get better at.

Alison Rooney: Yeah, well it feeds well into your last question. I would say interviewing and public speaking is an ever evolving skill of mine. It’s recent to my repertoire. I just started about two years ago. So I’m constantly trying to evolve that skill.

Steve Sanduski: Well, I’d say you’re a rapid learner based on when I saw you and Tyra doing up on stage, so very, very smooth.

Alison Rooney: Thank you.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, and if you want to speed it up to just start a podcast so you’ll get lots of practice doing podcasts.

Alison Rooney: That’s a good idea.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah. All right. How about, is there a habit that has led to your success?

Alison Rooney: Yes. Great question. I would say that that habit has to be how I manage my email and my inbox. A funny story that I’ll tell quickly. I know it’s rapid fire. I actually recently hosted a small meeting in my office for anyone who is interested that we called the Zero Inbox method and I either file, star, or immediately answer every single email. So my inbox never has more than three or four emails in it.

Steve Sanduski: Oh, well I need to take a lesson from you.

Alison Rooney: I’m think about patenting it.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I have kind of two different email systems. So one is a Yahoo email and I just let everything sit in the inbox and I’ve got tens of thousands of emails in the Yahoo email inbox.

Alison Rooney: That’s make me cringe, Steve.

Steve Sanduski: But my regular, my business email, my goal with my business email is to keep it under 50 in the inbox, and 50 is the magic number because that’s on the first page of Gmail without having to hit page two, so that’s always my goal is to keep it under 50. So if I’m under 50, it’s manageable, and I think as we speak right now it’s about 58 …

Alison Rooney: You can clean that back.

Steve Sanduski: … so I got to get it down by the end of the day. Yeah. Well I guess if we’re talk about habits, do you have a strange habit that you want to share with this audience of millions and millions of people?

Alison Rooney: Yeah. For that one, it’s probably not strange in the current environment, but prior to this, every single day when I get into the office, I have to wipe down my entire desk, my phone, my computer, any of my screens before I can start any work. I think before that maybe people thought I was a little OCD and crazy, but I think today that’s pretty normal.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, and while some people might think that’s strange, it’s like a ritual …

Alison Rooney: Exactly.

Steve Sanduski: … and I think rituals are so important. I’ve got morning rituals, I’ve got evening rituals, I’ve got a coffee, I don’t think I’d call it a ritual other than I have coffee like first thing when I get up every day. It’s such a great ritual for me that I go to bed at night looking forward to getting up in the morning and having my coffee and having some quiet time. So I think those rituals can be very, very helpful to give us some order and structure amid the sometimes chaos of our days, so thanks for sharing that.

Alison Rooney: Absolutely, sure.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah. Couple more quick ones here. So how about a leader that you admire?

Alison Rooney: Yeah. I would say that the leader I admire most was my grandfather. I know that’s a little cliché, but he was a CEO of a large public company and he taught really three big lessons that I think about all the time. One and probably the most important one is that, no one ever learned anything while talking. A second was that everyone puts pants on one leg at a time, everyone’s human and not only will the mistakes be made, but not to be intimidated by anyone either. Then the third was that whatever you can conceive and believe you can achieve. He had a couple of these taglines, like the ones I just listed and they’ve stuck with me forever and he was very well respected as a leader and I emulate or try to emulate him in a lot of ways.

Steve Sanduski: Well, speaking of some words of wisdom, do you have like a model for life in a few words or less that you think about?

Alison Rooney: Yeah. So actually this came to me recently. My aunt unfortunately passed away last year, but she had a favorite poem that they read as a part of her funeral service and now it’s on my desk every day and it’s long, but to cut down to seven words, couldn’t be done and she did it. It’s my favorite and I think about it all the time. It’s the poem by Edgar Albert Guest if you want to read the full thing, but couldn’t be done and she did it, I’d say is my motto these days.

Steve Sanduski: Excellent. Well I think that’s a good way to wrap up here and we’ll have to link to that in the show notes that you can find at So Alison, thank you, I really appreciate it. Congratulations on the great work that you and the team are doing at Barron’s and the tremendous conferences that you guys are putting out. So I really appreciate you taking some time here to be on the show.

Alison Rooney: Thank you, Steve. It was an honor to be asked, and one final word is that I couldn’t do this without the rest of my team. So shout out to everyone else at Barron’s that does this with me.

Steve Sanduski: Absolutely. Sounds great. All right, thank you Alison.

Alison Rooney: Thanks Steve.

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