How Tyler Wagner Learned to Crush Conferences

By Matt Swenson, December 5, 2014

In less than three years, Tyler Wagner has gone from interning at conferences to being asked to attend them by planners. It’s an unlikely story made all the more the unusual by the path the 23-year old took to get there.

Wagner’s rise begins with dropping out of the University of South Carolina, a time in his life when he devoted more time to his painting business than classwork. He attended his first conference while still in school and caught the bug. Not the shy type, Wagner reached out to Jayson Gaignard, the brains behind MasterMind Talks. An email exchange turned into a Skype conversation and led to Wager quitting USC and packing his bags for an unpaid internship in Canada that would lead to him become a professional conference goer.

“I learned about making connections and managing your own time,” says Wagner, who learned to connect so well that he authored a best-selling self-published book on the subject, “Conference Crushing,” that’s made him in-demand at meetings and events.

The book presents 17 steps to thrive in a conference setting, beginning with researching attendees and speakers, continuing on to making a memorably in-person introduction and concluding with the art of following-up. At the time he finished the book, Wagner had attended about 20 events. He’s now been to 50, and may be up for writing a sequel down the road.

“It’s a basic guide,” admits Wagner. “I’ve learned so much more since then. I could have made it a lot better.”

One thing Wagner has learned is that he prefers smaller meetings to larger conventions and conferences where it’s more challenging to make lasting connections.

He continues to attend meetings in the high season of the summer (conferences are asking him to come these days), and also launched a program to assist self-published authors. At 23, he’s giving advice to people far older, but perhaps not wiser, than he is.

One idea for a future project is a twist off the Will Smith film, “Hitch,” in which Wagner would be the wingman for an attendee, offering advice and support during an event.

“How fun would it be to be paid to go to conferences?” he says.

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