I would argue that we have, and yet fads continue to surprise me.
Remember when the iPhone came out in 2009 and Apple’s first campaign was titled “There’s an app for that”? Today, we could substitute the word “app” for conference, summit or expo. There is little shortage of local, national or regional conferences to attend based upon an industry, field of study or trending buzzword.
A quick visit to your local co-working space, conventional center, online search or browsing Eventbrite.com or 10times.com can be overwhelming. Once on a given conference website, you are caught in the vortex of well-dressed people with catchy keynote titles from popular companies or promising startups, endless schedules and guarantees that “x summit” is the “fastest growing event” filled with “thought leaders” and “visionaries” from the “world’s leading brands.” Testimonials boast “never missing a year” and “content that is so explosive and innovative that you can’t miss out.” Don’t forget to click on that “pre-register today for a 2-for-1 ticket!”
It’s absolutely daunting. Don’t people have to work? The plethora of professional events is beyond crushing, especially if you’re an introvert.
I’m not arguing against planning, hosting, attending or sponsoring conferences, but I’d like to point out some traps we find ourselves in — squandering time, money and attention.
Determine your purpose. Why are you attending? Is it out of your “Fear of Missing Out” or is there a purpose? Are you buying products or services? Are you hoping to meet a speaker or clients/prospects who might be attending? Do you want to get out of the office for a day or more?
Be honest with yourself and your colleagues. If you’re trying to promote yourself or your business, then your best bet might be sponsorships, speaking or exhibiting. If these costs are out of your budget, consider paid digital advertising tactics (e.g., geolocation) that drive attendees to your website even if you don’t physically attend.
Plan three or six months in advance. Oftentimes, conferences are finalizing their schedules three months out. Set a Google alert, follow social accounts or subscribe to updates. Look online for past videos of panels or keynotes and see if the content is useful. Don’t hesitate to ask past attendees if the conference was worthwhile. Some conferences publicly post their attendee list.
Outreach. Do your homework. Reach out to speakers, panelists or attendees. Look for related slack channels and hashtags. Attempt to prearrange meetings with people or companies in advance. The real business and personal connections don’t always occur from the conference stage. They are occurring in the hotel bar or nearby restaurant.
Relentlessly follow up. Even if you do attend, there’s no way to see and experience everything. Set aside a few days when you return to review what you missed. Reach out to presenters for talking points or businesses you were not able to meet. Your shared experience still can be personal even if there was a missed connection in-person.
Conferences are terrific because they can inspire us, provide avenues for networking and professional development, and allow face-to-face interactions. They are, however, expensive, require travel, and take us away from our work. If you’re selling, remember there’s no better opportunity than a captive audience. If you’re buying, remember there’s no better opportunity to meet various new partners.
Ryan Smeets is vice president of business development with BIG YAM, The Parsons Agency.