Conferences abound. Indeed an entrepreneur could easily do nothing except attend trendy conferences had he or she the gumption and money to do so. Before you dub this absurd, I know someone who once attended 19 multi-day events in a year – and not as a speaker! Because of entrepreneurship's role in the economy, and because things like content marketing, mobile and social media are ever changing, there's a veritable use for gatherings of people based around sharing knowledge on these subjects.
However, not all events (and registration fees) are created equal. In fact, there are so many models of conference that picking one – or more – to attend in a year and staying within budget can be a dizzying task.
To help you narrow down the field, here are five questions to ask before attending a conference:
1. What's the main problem I hope to get insight on at this event? Budget being finite, you should pick your conferences based partly on the chance they might help you overcome specific work challenges. The seminars you attend, the activities you undertake should all be framed around what's pressing in your business.
2. What kind of environment am I looking for? Some events that cater to entrepreneurs are massive – think SXSW or Hubspot's Inbound – while others offer small group settings. At the former you are more likely to get a high volume of big name speakers. The intimacy provided by small group setting, however, means that speakers may have more chance to tailor their content to your needs and interact with you informally. Also, some people prefer highly immersive environments, while others want to be able to show up, hear some speakers and hit the town. Again, it's largely personal preference – but worth considering. Each event and host city offers a slightly different environment.
3. Who's speaking? This is a pretty obvious question, but I'd say that it is worth looking at it in a different way than one might typically do. While you want to know who speakers are and what they are going to cover (in order to help with your business problems) you need to also consider speakers' style. Some headliners have accomplished great things, written best sellers, and designed multi-millon dollar programs for their clients. Then they get on stage and bore you to tears. This can ruin an experience – and greatly lessen what you retain in terms of learnings. A quick Youtube search will help you see if the speakers you're excited about are all they're cracked up to be.
4. Who's going? Over the years, I've noticed that I get more out of my interactions with fellow conference attendees than I do speakers. It's in the informal encounters – over drinks at the end of the day, or coffees in the morning – that real connections of business value are made. Pay close attention as sometimes conferences target specific levels of employee. If you're an exec with 15 to 20 years of experience showing up at a 101 level event won't do much for you. Neither will you get much value out of the networking.
5. What other activities – beyond keynotes and workshops – are on offer at the event? This matters immensely, because through these connections are made. Some conferences, such as the Canadian Sponsorship Forum tie in to specific cultural or sporting events. Others budget a portion of time for participants to engage in adventure or sporting activities. While your boss may wonder if a business conference that involves learning to kiteboard or attending hockey games is a lark, there's plenty of evidence to suggest combining work and play deepens the positive impact on the former.
Jackson Wightman is co-organizer of BOOST – a small group event that combines a kiteboarding adventure with workshops on digital marketing in the Turks and Caicos. He owns marketing and PR agency, Proper Propaganda