I got the news this morning: A coaching icon named Don Nelson is being forced out by the Golden State Warriors, who would rather pay him 6 million not to coach than let him finish his contract.
I won't go into all the positives that Nelson brought to the industry of basketball (good player, solid coach, looks more like Boris Yeltsin than any man alive). Instead, I'm going to focus on something I saw involving Nelson this summer that told me everything I needed to know about him as a professional.
Here's the breakdown: I went to Las Vegas to attend the NBA summer league with some friends. All you need to know about that experience was that we watched 8 full length pro games over two days - and liked it. Don Nelson was there, like a hundred other pro hoops insiders.
Here's what was different. Most of the insiders flowed in and out of the gym where the league was held.
Nelson did not. He set up camp in the high corner of bleachers of one side of the gym, and basically never left. He reacted to good plays. He reacted to bad plays. He looked like he was asleep with his eyes open a couple of times.
My point? HE NEVER LEFT THE GYM. He's a gym rat. The industry is what he does. He was there to evaluate talent, so he put in the hours at this equivalent to a conference in the NBA.
Which brings me to the comparison with conferences. Look around the room at the next conference you go to. See who's there. Then, session after session in the main room, see who the constant people are. See who looks intent on learning. See who's taking a few notes. See who tries to connect for a brief moment with the speaker, then returns to their perch to take in the next presentation.
Odds are those are the people who are really there to learn, to try and get better. As a presenter at conferences, I don't always do the best job at being a participant, and I get that I'm broken that way.
But I'm always watching. I see who's there to learn and will pay the dues to pick up the one nugget that's going to make them better next year. And for those of you trying to network with the people that matter at conferences, I'd suggest that these people are the folks with the real insights.
Find a way to talk to them. Just don't prevent them from taking in the next session. They will Kung Fu your #$# if you get in the way of that.