INBOUND18: You’re Doing it Wrong

TJ Kelly

Lawn on D: Tiny Tables.It was like a tiny kids table. Noticeably lower than all the other multi-colored tables around it.

The guy sitting there looked uncomfortable. A full-grown man, struggling to negotiate table legs and human ones.

“May I join you?”

I timed my question perfectly. He had JUST taken a bite of his complimentary shaved steak sandwich. And now he was scrambling to respond politely without spitting out his food.

I sat down and immediately understood his leg-vs.-leg struggle. This table would have fit in at my 3-year-old daughter’s preschool, and I’m six feet tall.

But the awkward and slightly uncomfortable introduction led to a lively conversation and at least one additional introduction.

Both of the gentlemen I met that afternoon are British, visiting Boston for INBOUND. And shaved steak guy is a journalist: a valuable connection for a marketing pro.

My network was starting to grow.

But despite the potential value of those connections, and the positive experience I gained from forging them, that’s not why I was there.

That’s not what INBOUND is for.


#INBOUND18 & other conferences are not for learning.

Not entirely. Maybe some learning-by-doing. But conferences teach and re-teach much of the same material over and over.

That’s not a problem. There’s a ton of market for it. And the info is always good.

But if you attend the conference with the intention to sit in the audience and “absorb,” you’re doing it wrong.

You’re missing out on a huge, invaluable, way-more-imporant-than-learning opportunity.

Everything has exceptions.

Sure, there are exceptions to this. For example I sat in the audience with bated breath as Casey Neistat wowed the crowd at Drift‘s #HYPERGROWTH18 conference.

And I’d do it again, too.

Casey is one of my heroes and I’ll hang on his every word for as long as I can predict right now.

But Casey’s 45-minute talk was the only one I fanboy’d out for. The rest of them—and the whole day at HYPERGROWH, plus 3 days at INBOUND—served a higher purpose for my team and I.


INBOUND18 is not for networking.

Conferences aren’t for networking, either.

This is the second most common purpose I hear mentioned when people talk about conferences and professional events. We even have our own writeup about it.

There are entire categories of events and venues dedicated to nothing but “professional networking” for businesses of all types.

And that’s awesome.

These events have real value, and networking is absolutely huge in any business. I even use a personal branding tagline called Handshake Marketing™ because the value of meeting people and making friends with them can’t be overstated.

Again, exceptions.

My mother used to say “moderation in all things, even moderation.” So I can’t stick to my guns 100% on NO networking at conferences.

But the handshakes and the networking are still second fiddle. Crucial and invaluable, but they’re not why we go to conferences—and they should not be your primary focus.

Learning and networking should not be the #1 reasons you attend conferences. They have to be in the #2 and 3 slots.


Ok, then why? — What is #INBOUND18 for?

Content. Research. Documentation. Media. It’s about publishing.

Or at least it should be.

Everybody who publishes original content to the web—the digital marketing world has started calling these people creators—knows the struggle of trying to find new stuff to write about, talk about, or include in your next video.

Great content is hard to make, and inspiration for that content can be hard to come by.

Conferences, meetups, and networking gigs are perfect opportunities to create, because they’re the perfect opportunities to document.

Gary Vee popularized the documentation-as-content idea in 2016.

Documentation as Content — Getting the most out of INBOUND

Most of the marketing experts out there will tell you that sitting behind your computer all day isn’t going to get it done.

You have to get out there and act like a salesperson. Hit the ground shake some hands and get out there and meet people.

We’re lucky enough in the marketing industry to have INBOUND and tons of other great conferences.

It’s a perfect event for us to get out here and meet other marketers, other sales people, and other experts in our industry.

But you don’t need a multi-million dollar production at a world-class venue to get out meet folks.

All you need is a handshake and a smile.


We put together some documentation to show you how to do that, how it has helped us, and how you can put it to work for you.


What content creation looks like

If you know Boston at all, or really any city, there aren’t a ton of spaces where you can just swing in a beautiful September, late summer day and just enjoy the outside.

While some of these sessions were going on, the team and I were strategizing what we’re talking about.

BCEC Lawn on D, home to HubSpot's INBOUND conference.

An event like INBOUND just has to be documented. But what should we create? This documentation-as-content— what is it going to look like?

Content for content’s sake is useless.

Content has to have a point. It has drive at something. And so that was the discussion: what’s the point of all this? What are we driving at, and what are we going to say?

I could walk around and take video footage of everything but what does that actually accomplish?


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A post shared by 3 Media Web (@3mediaweb) on

So what we decided on was basically a how-to. It’s a demonstration of what we mean when we say documentation IS content, and how to do that—how easy it is to do that.

We’ve got some footage in the video of me editing on my laptop. I used an iPhone 7 with a cracked home button to record that video.

The audio is not great. The video quality is not perfect—it’s more than a little shaky.

But we don’t care.

Because it’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s fast to produce. And anybody can do it that doesn’t mind pressing the record button and talking at the little camera lens on their phone.


You have no reason not to.

If you’ve seen any of our videos before, you know I’ve talked about this documentation-as-content idea. Gary Vee is huge on this, and he’s absolutely right.

A space like this just has to be documented, and this IS content. This is what these events are for: get out here and document.

Create something.

And you don’t have to create something from scratch. It doesn’t have to be a blank canvas—although we have one of those too.

WeWork INBOUND18 Mural by Chloe Rubenstein.

WeWork mural at INBOUND18 by the crazy talented Chloe Rubenstein. Finished version can be seen here.

It can be walking around the venue speaking to people and… “Hey, what’d you learn today? …Hey, what was your favorite session so far?”

Just take the temperature the people around you. That is interesting that creates the human interest, to put all the sessions and all the knowledge and all the wisdom that’s being shared… put that in a human perspective.

That’s just documenting what’s going on around you and creating unique—uniquely valuable—content out of it.

Documentation-as-content, and this is a perfect setting and a perfect example to do that.


Learn. Connect. But don’t stop there.

At conferences like this, it is not first and foremost about the education you get at the sessions. It’s not first and foremost about the networking opportunities. It’s about using this as an opportunity to publish content.

But those education sessions and speeches and talks you can see, and all of the networking opportunities like this one at Rosa Mexicano here in Boston—they provide opportunities for that content.

So here we are. It’s a little loud. It’s not the best quality video and especially audio but here we are one document what this process looks like for you.


Go forth and make stuff.

Document. Create. Share your wisdom with the world.

That’s what we did, and that’s what we do. The material we publish in this documenting process can be used to win us more business and reenforce our place among the top marketing agencies in Boston.

And that’s the point.

We’re marketers. Our job is to find ways to reach people. And in the age of social media and digital entertainment, having a brand isn’t enough. Offering services or products isn’t enough.

You want to reach people? Give them something.

That’s where content comes in. That’s what digital marketing requires in 2o18 and beyond. And that’s why creators are popping up everywhere. They’re the ones who have something to give.

Don’t just advertise. Produce.


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