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      21 min read

      Cultivating Connections Through Regional Technology Councils

      How to successfully approach networking events and what your local technology council can do for you.


       

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      It was a true pleasure to have a conversation with Thom Singer. His career has taken a winding path guided by the powerful connections he's made over the years. Thom is a successful public speaker, author, and podcaster and his most recent role is the Chief Executive Officer of the Austin Technology Council where his mission is to bring Austin's technology companies together to engage the wider Austin community and ensure the future of Austin's technology business landscape.

      In this podcast episode we discuss Thom's background in marketing and his genius take on networking and adding value to events and to the people you meet.

      "Networking is not a verb, it's a lifestyle. You can't just show up at an [industry event] and think 'this networking stuff doesn't work, nobody sent me tons of business'. It takes years to build a reputation in your community, in your industry.

      -Thom Singer CEO, Austin Technology Council

       

      We also extend the philosophy of adding value to the concept of content marketing. Many businesses are apprehensive to share their IP with the public, but ultimately, in mine and Thom's experience, sharing valuable information wins business and trust.

      Of course, we had to talk about Thom's plans for the Austin Technology Council. He shared why these councils are so important for their communities and how technology and related service companies can get involved.

      Resources

      Transcript:

       

      On this episode, I welcome the CEO of the Austin Technology Council. And if you've ever heard of a technology council in a city where you live or close to where you live, you might not be aware of what the heck that organization is all about, what their charter is, their vision, what they're trying to accomplish. And that's what you'll hear from Thom today is what is the role of a technology council? How does it fit in with, say, a chamber of commerce or a vertical industry association? And I find it really interesting and learned a lot about the benefits that a tech company would have by joining a technology council. In addition to their industry association. We also talk a lot about the power of making human connections, as my guest is also a professional speaker on that subject. There's lots of ground to cover here and lots of energy in this episode. Let's do this.

      Welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. Your source for building trust and generating demand with technical content. Here is your host, Wendy Covey.

      Hi and welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. On each episode, I'll break down an industry trend, challenge, or best practice in reaching technical audiences. You'll meet colleagues, friends and clients of mine who will stop by to share their stories. And I hope that you leave each episode feeling inspired and ready to take action. Before we jump in, I'd like to give a brief shout out to my agency, TREW Marketing. TREW is a full service agency located in beautiful Austin, Texas, serving highly technical companies. For more information, visit trewmarketing.com. And now on with our podcast. Hey everyone, and welcome to another episode of Content Marketing, Engineered. I'm joined today by Thom Singer. He's a man of many titles, but among them includes the CEO of the Austin Technology Council and he's a professional business speaker on making human connections and author of twelve books. Welcome to the show, Thom.

      Hey Wendy, thanks for having me.

      We're going to have so much fun today because wow, one, we're both Austinites here, so that in of itself we have an inside connection that we'll be talking about. But also, just looking through your LinkedIn profile and all the different twists and turns that your career has taken, I feel like we have to start there because I see sales, marketing, consulting, executive leadership. Maybe you could walk me through that journey and hit some of the highlights.

      Yeah, I mean, I guess one would say I had an eclectic career, but it sort of mapped itself out on its own for me. Right. So I started off, I had a background in sales and that's where I started. And through that I started getting realizing that sales worked better if there was really good marketing.

      People know how that works.

      I know it's amazing. And so many times sales and marketing do this right, they collide and they fight inside the companies. And I always believed that they had to work together. And I worked for some big companies, but I also worked for some smaller organizations. And so you sort of had to wear all the hats. And so I got involved on the marketing side, and then I moved over. I made the switch to the dark side and became the marketing director for a big technology law firm.

      Wait, hang on. It's only a former salesperson that would call marketing the dark side. I bet sales is the dark side. I'm so confused right now.

      Yeah, the marketing people call sales the dark side. I call it both ways. Right. I started in sales, but this technology law firm, they did a couple of things. One is they wanted me to be a salesperson wearing a marketing title. Because back then, law firms didn't have business development people, they only had marketing people. And so I created this role in the company sort of on my own. They sort of gave me a long runway to figure out if I could fly this plane. And I ended up spending five and a half years with this group of lawyers at two different firms. And it was really a great experience for me. But along the way, I started training the lawyers on how to market themselves and how to do sales, how to get involved in the community. And that led me to being asked to speak. The lawyers would give me to their clients. Somebody one time said, why don't you just become a professional speaker? And my answer was, I don't think you just get to do that.

      I think you have, can I just give myself that title and get out there?

      Get out there. It doesn't work that way. And the person said, well, why don't you check out the National Speakers Association and get around people who are doing this? So I got really involved with the National Speakers Association. I went on from that law firm to work at a bank and then a consulting firm. But in 2009, during the recession, I was laid off and I made the decision I was just going to jump in and go do the speaking thing and write books, and I was able to make it work. And up until the recession, or I'm sorry, the pandemic, I was able for twelve years to make that be my income and all that I did. But then a lot of things changed with live events shutting down and everything else. And so I ended up going and taking this role, running this local tech association, the Austin Technology Council. So I've had an eclectic career, but everything has always been focused on people helping people, helping connect people. And that runs true in everything that I do today.

      So how did you discover the power of human connection?

      People ask me that question all the time. It's a great question, but I think a lot of it has to do with my mom. My mother was one of these people who everybody was drawn to her. People liked what she had to say. You'd go to a party, there'd be people standing around her. When she passed away, five different women came up to my brothers and my dad and I and said she was the best friend I ever had in my life. And one of those people I know for a fact my mom didn't like her at all, but she was always nice to her. And I remember her saying this person drove her crazy. But the lady didn't have a lot of friends, and my mom was just very nice to her. So the woman viewed her as one of the nicest people in the organization that they belonged to, as how they knew each other. And I always thought, you know what? You don't have to like everybody, but you don't have to be a jerk, right? You find ways to connect. You look for something that people have that's positive, find things that you have in common, and it really allowed me to have this super eclectic career.

      Most of my job changes came from people coming to me with opportunities for more money, more prestige, more opportunity. And people were like, how do you get these opportunities in different industries? But really the industry didn't matter. I was always dealing with sales and marketing and that human connection side of business. So it sort of worked itself out. It's been a fun journey most of the time, and I'm really grateful to be where I am today.

      What are some of the ways that you help people to think about how to connect? Like, from a marketer standpoint, we think channels, right? So we're like, what about LinkedIn? Or how often should I be face to face with people? And so what advice do you give to companies that are trying to sort that piece out?

      Well, I work a lot with companies in the services industry, right. I work for law firms and banks and consulting firms. And what I told them was, look, if you don't show up physically at these events that are happening around town, you're giving that to your competitor. Sometimes people would look at a certain organization and they'd say, well, there's already a lot of lawyers who go to that, so we're not going to go to that. Why would you seed it? Why not show up and be better, make better friendships? Why not be the person who provides more value and then you'll get that connection piece. But showing up at an event one time, people go to networking events thinking it's a verb. They think, oh, I'm going to go networking. Well, networking is not a verb. It's a lifestyle. And you can't just show up at something like the association for Corporate Growth or the Austin Technology Council once or twice and think, oh, this networking stuff doesn't work. Nobody sent me tons of business. It takes years to build a reputation in your community, in your industry, where the opportunities are going to come to you.

      But if you invest in people and you show up, you listen, you learn, you find out what people's challenges are, and then you introduce people to other people. You serve on committees, you volunteer. When you do those things, people want to get in your orbit. When you do it right, one of the ways to get in your orbit is to bring you opportunities. If somebody brings me an opportunity, a member for the association that I run, or a speaking opportunity, I know who they are, I'm going to remember them, and I'm more willing to serve them if they show up serving me. So I tell companies all the time, don't send your people to these networking events. Send Becky one month, Brian another month, and Nancy another month. Assign people to groups and make them go all the time for a couple of years. Make them volunteer and get on committees, and then that person's going to have really strong relationships in that one organization. Someone else in your organization will have that same reputation in another organization. And then over time, everybody's like, God, you guys are everywhere. You dominate. And I saw that with the lawyers I worked with over the years we were together.

      People thought we had twice as many attorneys as we did because our people were everywhere. So my advice is you have to actually put in the time. You have to realize it's going to take a long time. But if you show up and serve your community, you're going to get more opportunities than others.

      Yeah. And I like what you said about fostering a deeper connection, like actually caring to learn and to help and to give in order to get back. I think that's really key.

      And you have to lead with this idea of collaboration. I tell people, when you go to a networking event, if you go in thinking, I need to meet five people who I could sell something to, you're going to fail and networking is not going to work, and you're going to be one of these people who go, People suck. Instead of you show up and say, you know what, I'm going to go to this networking event and I'm going to find one person who I can be the conduit that introduces them to something that helps them, whether it's a potential client, somebody they could hire, somebody they could collaborate with. If you go in with that attitude, you're going to win all the time, because it's easy to find somebody that you can help, but it's harder to find people who can help you. But if you go in with that attitude, and you go in with the attitude of, I'm here to collaborate, so often people look around and they think, what can I get from them? Nobody goes to an event thinking, who can take advantage of me? A lot of these people who go networking, they're like a wolf who hasn't eaten in a month.

      And they look at people as if they all have a pork chop hanging around their neck, and they're like and they just want to get something from them. They want to get that pork chop. Don't be the pork chop person. Be the person who's providing value to others. And over a lifetime, over a career, you're going to have more opportunities than you know what to do with.

      That's great. So it also reminds me of the premise behind content marketing. Why do we create content? Why do we take our internal IP, if you will, and put it out there on our website in the form of blogs and case studies? And shouldn't people pay us for that? So I know that you're a big fan of content marketing as well. So what is your philosophy when it comes to sharing that knowledge digitally in particular?

      Yeah, well, I think if you put stuff out there that serves people, they'll come back to see what else is there. And the longer they do that, the more they get to know you. They get to like you, they get to trust you. And let's face it, I mean, it's an old cliché, but it is so true. More true today, I think. People choose to do business with people they know, they like and they trust. The only way we can get to know and like and trust people is through in interactions. Now, so much of that interaction has moved to digital. People are wanting to do all their meetings by zoom. People are looking for their googling information before they talk to a human. So you've got to put the best stuff out there. So often you'll see a speaker and they'll be like, they'll give some little tidbit of information. If you want to know everything else, you have to buy my book. Everybody in the audience, nobody goes, oh, wow, I want to buy their book. They barf in their mouth. They're like, oh, get over yourself.

      Yeah.

      So instead, tell them all the information and make them hungry to find out what else is in the book. Don't tell them, oh, for the best information, buy my stuff, put out your best stuff, give everything away, and people are going to keep coming back for more.

      Yeah, it's amazing. When I wrote my book, Content Marketing, Engineered, I had somebody ask me, well, why are you giving away your whole process? Isn't that what people pay your agency to do, is implement this very strategy? And I said, yeah. I said, but the point is that someone will read it and go, wow, this is exactly what my company needs. But I don't want to go implement all this, and I don't think I can. And so to have this appreciation for I know it's a philosophical alignment first and an appreciation of what it takes to actually get the work done. And it was such a shortcut for me in sales. Not that has to be a book, but you get what I'm saying.

      Yeah, well, absolutely. And I think so many people live in a finite culture. They're like, oh, I don't want to join that organization and share my best practices. Someone will steal my best practices. And everybody's fighting over all the slices of the pie. Gentleman who founded the National Speakers Association was a gentleman named Cabot Robert. He founded this organization 50 years ago. He's been gone, I don't know, 20 years. However, he had a famous saying, and that was, let's not fight over the slices of the pie. Let's bake a bigger pie so everybody gets a bigger slice. And I think that's the attitude you have to live by is, how can I bake a bigger pie in our society so everyone, including myself, can get a bigger slice? If we fight over a tiny pie, everyone's just going to get a little.

      Yeah, I like that analogy. Well, I don't know if it lines up with what I'm about to say, but speaking of making your pie bigger or your reach bigger, you started a podcast boy pretty early on, and in the rise of popularity of podcasts, I'd say so what inspired you to do that and how is it going?

      So I was running my own business in the early 2010s as a professional speaker. But at the end of the day, I was an entrepreneur. I had to do sales, I had to do marketing, I had to do accounting, I had to do everything you could to run a business. So I started listening to podcasts for solopreneurs or early stage entrepreneurs. Because when people share, they can't help it. Success leaves clues. And podcasting in the early two thousand s, two thousand and ten s became a great way to listen to people sharing expertise. So I became a big consumer of podcasts, and I really liked the venue because not everybody had to be famous. I mean, part of the problem is someone who's famous. I mean, you interview Bill Gates, that's great, but Bill Gates' life and my life are so different. There's very few things that I could learn probably from Bill Gates, but if I listen to somebody who has a small business with no employees and they're growing their sales, I could probably learn something from them. So someone who's a little farther ahead. So I was an absorber of podcasts, and then I decided this could be my own little personal university.

      I could start interviewing entrepreneurs and get them to answer my direct questions. So I really didn't start it because it wasn't tied to my topic as a speaker. I didn't really start it to be like, promotion of me. I did it to be a way to access really smart people who could share information. And I started it in 2014 before all the celebrities got into podcasting. So for the first two years, I had like a top 100 top 50 business podcast, and a lot of people listened to it. It was really good and it led to speaking opportunities, even though the topic was different. I didn't speak on entrepreneurship, but I got access to hundreds of people who shared ideas. And like I said, success leaves clues. So I fell in love with doing podcasting. The show was originally called Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do, and I would interview entrepreneurs about cool things they were doing in business. A few years ago, I changed the name to Making Waves at the Sea Level. So I interview CEOs, CFOs, et cetera about that, and now I'm doing solo episodes on it. So the podcast over, what is that?

      Nine years has taken on a couple of iterations, a couple of lives of what it does, but then other people started hiring me to host their podcasts. So for four different associations, two of them are still happening with me as the host, one is still happening with an internal person as a host, and then one that podcast lived out its life. But I was paid to be the host of other people's shows, and that was a lot of fun to do. So that's been a win. To have that skill, to be able to interview people has been something I've been able to bring into other aspects of my life.

      Yeah, I bet the you of years ago that was just listening to podcasts on the treadmill. Never imagined you'd be a paid host on multiple other podcasts at the time.

      No. And I never dreamed. I've now done over 1200 corporate interviews between all the shows that I've hosted. And when I do an interview, sometimes people go, wow, that was a really good interview. Well, it's because I've done 1200. If you go back and listen to episode one, it's like, oh God, what a cheeseball.

      Oh, I hear you. When I look back at my early ones too, I'm like, wow, I was so focused on my next question, I didn't listen and have a conversation. So I hear you. It takes skills and experience. Well, Thom, I'd like to shift gears and talk a little bit about technology councils. So as I mentioned at the beginning, you're the CEO of the Austin Technology Council, and I want to hear all about that. But first, just help people understand what is the role of a regional technology council? Because this is a thing. This isn't just an Austin thing, right? This is a nationwide thing.

      Oh, yeah. There's an organization called Techno, which is I forget what it exactly stands for, but it's the Technology Councils of North America, and there's 60 member organizations, and then there's another dozen or two that aren't members. So there's 60 to 80 somewhere in there. Technology councils in North America. And they are regional. They're usually city based, sometimes state based. They're regional and state focused organizations with the purpose of bringing their technology communities together. The Austin Technology Council was founded 31 years ago with the purpose of helping put tech on the map as the future economic driver of Austin, Texas. Now, I joke that check, that's kind of done right? But we didn't have a fully cohesive ecosystem within technology between entrepreneurs and people who could fund them and people who could do their banking and people who could do their legal work and their accounting work. All these tech companies were kind of figuring it out for themselves. And so they came together and founded this organization in 1992 that was focused on how do we create a vibrant place for technology? It was never meant to be the next Silicon Valley. It was meant to make Austin a unique alternative to what the big cities had to offer and make it an attractive place for entrepreneurship in technology to grow and thrive.

      And so that's what we were founded on. That's what we did. I was hired a year ago to help reinvent what is the future of this organization. So I've actually been traveling the country, meeting with the CEOs of these other councils. Some of them have staffs of 30 and 40 people. Some of them are one man shows. We're a tiny organization in Austin because Austin now has a ton of organizations that serve technology, both for profit and nonprofit, both broad and vertical. So you have groups for medtech and fintech and gaming, and then you also have things that focus on startups, and you have all these different things. What Austin Technology Council is working to do is to remain relevant and be the thread that runs through everything. So my attitude with this organization is we're a community organization first, and we're a membership organization second. Now, if we don't have enough members, we can't keep the lights on. There's obviously expenses in running an organization like this. There's salaries. Right now, I'm the only person on staff, but I should have two others on staff. I mean, I can't do this all alone. And you need to have technology.

      I mean, you got to have a website, you have to have a CRM. You have to have all this. I mean, there's tens of thousands of dollars a year in just basic business things that you need to run an organization. So we have to have members and sponsors to be able to make that happen. But what I'm trying to do is bring us back to being a grassroots organization, one where the local tech executives are talking about issues that can make tomorrow's Austin one, two, and three decades into the future, the place that can thrive. So what I tell everybody is, what are we doing as a community? And I don't think we're doing everything right. What are we doing as a community. If a baby is born today and 30 years from now, she wants to start a technology company, what are we doing today that will provide the foundation for her to start and grow a company that can go from startup to established company to maybe Fortune 500 level organization? Is the infrastructure going to be in place? Is the vibe going to be in place? Is the community going to be in place?

      And so we have to be having hard conversations. So the purpose of an organization like a technology council is to bring people together. It works in conjunction with and like a Chamber of Commerce, people say, oh, what does a Chamber of Commerce do? Austin wouldn't be Austin today if it wasn't for organizations like the greater austin chamber of commerce and the Austin technology council, because they bring people together and they become that voice who tells the message out to the rest. Of the world what's happening in that city in either general business or, in our case, technology, so that people know this is a viable place to come and start a business, to relocate a business, to build your career. Here's the thing we have to think about. Used to be. We were the alternative to San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Boston, et cetera. There are now 20 cities who are positioning themselves as the alternative to Austin. And that's not bad. They're not our competition. They're going to be different cities that offer different things and cater to different verticals. But if we're not aware that the Austin that we built isn't the Austin of tomorrow and we need to be building the next phase, then some other places will be able to have a cooler vibe and a more alluring thing.

      So it's our job to get the voices of these entrepreneurs to come together and have conversations. If these real successful tech entrepreneurs are only talking to each other and they're getting six other CEOs together to have bourbon by their pool, that's not a community, that's an ivory tower. This is where an organization like ours, if we can get them to the table to have the conversations, that's where the whole community, every tech company from startup to a Google, can thrive in our ecosystem.

      Yeah, I feel your passion and energy on this. I love it. I feel that a lot of companies focus in these verticals, as you mentioned. So industry associations very specific to the solutions they're offering. And that makes sense, right? You have supply chain issues or innovation, and you want to further that along. But this is very different. When I think about our backyard here in Austin and wherever people live that are listening, I think about recruiting and think about retention and like you said, the ecosystem to support that community or that company. Rather it's banking and insurance and that supply those supporters that help the business run. So a company, it sounds like really needs to have a foot in both in order to ensure long term growth.

      I'm a believer that there is a place for all of these vertical organizations that focus on things like Fintech or Medtech or whatever. Because, yes, there is a time and a place where you need to get together with the people who are just like you. But every survey out there proves that companies and communities do better when there's a lot of diversity. And yes, when we think of diversity, we think of race and gender and things like that. And that is super important. And I'm all about that. And ATC is trying to find a way to help some of those underserved communities really be able to thrive. In our tech community, however, diversity also is age. We forget that sometimes people look around, you go to these big events and you'll find all the millennials and Gen Z's will find each other. All of the sort of 50 year olds will find each other. You'll find groups of women who are about the same age and groups of people by different demographics. We need to not just self segregate ourselves to people who are like us. So a gaming company can learn a lot from a fintech company and vice versa.

      So you need to have sort of that greater umbrella of community where diversity of thought, diversity of who our clients are, diversity of the products we offer, et cetera, come together in a place where diversity between race and women and religion and everything else, where everybody is accepted and everybody has a voice. And I think we're living in a society where we talk a lot about this, and then we're finding ways to silo ourselves off from people who don't have the same job title or people who don't have the same level of degrees or things like that. So I'm a big believer that we do better when everybody comes together and those voices can get mishmashed up and some answers can float to the top.

      Love it. Okay, so if someone's listening and they want to engage with the Austin Technology Council, how do they do so what's that?

      Austintechnologycouncil.org is where you find us. Our main focus is technology companies. We do have a place for the service provider companies, the marketing firms, the banks, the lawyers and all this. But our main focus and what we're really looking to get on our board, because we need some fresh voices on our board. We really need tech entrepreneurs who say, I care about the future and I'm willing to put some time and some money and some effort into creating something. One of our new board members, I asked him on the ATC podcast. We have a podcast called Austin Tech Connect. And I interviewed our newest board member and I said, why? He's a young entrepreneur, about 70 employees, very successful company. He's in his thirty s. I said, Why would. You give your time and your money to be on our board. And he said, as an engineer, if there's problems out there, you can't wait for someone else to fix them. You've got to figure out, how do we solve these problems? And he goes, that's what we have to do as leaders. And I was like, Put that on a T shirt.

      I mean, that's an engineer response if I ever heard one. Love it. And separately, those listening that would like to find your other podcast remind me of the name again.

      So the technology podcast is Austin Tech Connect. My personal podcast is making waves at sea level, like CEO, CFO, et cetera. And they can find that on Apple, on Spotify, et cetera. And there's information on it on thomsinger.com, which is thomsinger.com.

      And can we find all of your books, a library of your books there?

      Yes, most of my books are out of print. I stopped writing books when I started podcasting, although I am working on another book. But before I took the job with ATC, I made a commitment. I was going to finish it by about now. But then I took that job last year, and I haven't really worked that much on it, but I've got an outline. I've got it working. Probably by about the end of 2024, I will have my 13th and probably last book on what I call Uncommon Connections: How to Build a Stronger Inner Circle.

      I think you're going to have to come right back on when you get that book out so we can talk more about it. How's that done.

      No problem. Of course I will.

      All right. Well, Thom, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate you coming on.

      Thank you for having me.

      Thanks for joining me today on Content Marketing, Engineered. For show notes, including links to resources, visit trewmarketing.com/podcast While there, you can subscribe to our blog and our a newsletter and order a copy of my book, Content Marketing, Engineered. Also, I would love your reviews on this podcast, so please, when you get a chance, subscribe and leave me your review on your favorite podcast subscription platform. Thanks and have a great day. Our channel.



       

      Wendy Covey

      Wendy Covey is a CEO, a technical marketing leader, author of Content Marketing, Engineered, one of The Wall Street Journal’s 10 Most Innovative Entrepreneurs in America, and she holds a Texas fishing record. She resides in a small Hill Country town southwest of Austin, Texas, where she enjoys outdoor adventures with her family.



      About TREW Marketing

      TREW Marketing is a strategy-first content marketing agency serving B2B companies that target highly technical buyers. With deep experience in the design, embedded, measurement and automation, and software industries, TREW Marketing provides branding, marketing strategy, content development, and digital marketing services to help customers efficiently and effectively achieve business goals.