I’m sure we all have had this experience—going to one of those conferences that everyone is talking about, but at the end of the day wondering if there is any real value in conferences.
Over the past few years, I’ve avidly attended some social media / digital marketing conferences (2010 Future Midwest , Brand Camp University, SES Chicago, etc.) And just recently I started curating advertising, social media, digital marketing, and analytics conferences and sharing them with my coworkers. Much feedback (more so skepticism) about those glamorous conferences (with registration fees above $1,000) sounded like: “I don’t really find anything I don’t already know,” “Most of the content covered are just big picture, “There is rarely any practical application to take away.”
Some conferences nowadays do provide a description of who should attend and an agenda to help people have expectations. A caveat to going to conferences is that there will always be different experience levels and expectations among attendees (and sometimes speakers). But I do believe there is always value in attending conferences, whether it’s for networking, or for fresh ideas that could be implemented in your work.
Here’s how I get value out of the conferences I attended:
1. Conduct thorough research about the conference: What is the conference about specifically? Who attends the conference? Who are the speakers? What kinds of tracks/sessions/panels are covered? Is the content covering something that you’re already familiar with or introducing new tools? (This last question is very important. If you’re familiar with the general context the conference is about, you should identify panels, sessions, or even add-on workshops that have more depth of the subject.) Personally I like to set up Twitter hashtags prior to the event to monitor who is talking about the event.
For bigger events like SXSW http://sxsw.com/ (I’d like to attend in the future), those who want to get the most out of the conference usually have all the sessions they want to attend figured out beforehand.
2. Seek inspiration as well as knowledge: The great thing about going to a conference is that you are surrounded by people in similar industries. Many of them are trying to solve the same business problems, and that is why making connections and talking to other attendees is so valuable. Some attendees like to rush to the back stage and talk to the speaker; I find a casual (but mindful) conversation with someone who is dealing with similar business problems just as important as making a connection with speakers. (There are mobile apps out there you can take advantage of connecting with people at conference, like Here on Biz http://hereon.biz/)
In addition, ask yourself: What do I want to get out of conference? What problems do I want to solve? If you are looking for ideas how to solve problems or to do things more efficiently, try to come up with a question and ask it during the conference, whether at the keynote session, breakout session, or even one-on-one. Sometimes, inspirations (how to do things differently) are more impactful than the knowledge itself.
3. Avoid attending the same conference twice (within a certain time frame): The last one might just be my personal experience. But rarely do I find the second attendance at a conference as powerful as the first one. Branch out. Talk to people. There are lots of conference options out there.
How many conferences have you attended this year? Out of all the conferences you attended, how many of them do you find helpful?