The Value in Attending Conferences

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As I’m gearing up for SMX Advanced, conferences are top of mind. Luckily for me, SMX Advanced will be my third conference this year and, unfortunately, my last. (But with good reason – little Bishop will be making her appearance just before conferences pick back up in the fall!) I can’t wait for SMX Advanced and I thought I’d jot down my notes as to why I believe conferences are a good investment. In my opinion, the value falls into three main categories: context, sharing ideas, and networking.

Context

Often times you can pick up the slides after the conference and I highly recommend it if you can’t make it to the conference. That said, viewing the slides later on your own isn’t the same as watching the presentation in person. You miss out on so much context. Firstly, the ideas on the slides aren’t always easily understood just by reviewing them. Speakers often talk to charts, icons, and images without detailing out their ideas word-for-word on the slides.

Second, without watching it in person, you miss out on the story behind the slides. You may see the stats but you don’t get the full case study. Some slides simply won’t make sense. You can almost always ask speakers questions via Twitter or email but without the full context, you’ll probably miss out on opportunities to ask good questions. Plus, most sessions are panels and so you wouldn’t get the true experience unless you looked at all of the presentations. There may be a recap blog but it won’t be able to fully capture the context, either.

Sharing Ideas

One of the biggest benefits of attending conferences versus reading blogs or grabbing slide decks later is the ability to observe and speak with other attendees about their ideas.  For one, when you are watching the presentation in person, you have the opportunity to hear other people’s questions. There’s a good chance that questions will be asked that you didn’t think of but that apply to your account.

You have the benefit of sitting next to people that are watching the same sessions and then conversing about it afterward; or over lunch; or at a networking event later. Blog comments allow for a small glimpse into what it is like to share a learning experience with other professionals with different perspectives but there aren’t a lot of people that comment on blogs regularly. Most people read a blog and close it. Maybe they share them in a short tweet – but you aren’t immersed in the topic the same way that you are when you’re in person, in the moment.

Networking

This is one of my favorite pieces. I love meeting new people and meeting people in person that I’ve engaged with online.  It’s a small world and an even smaller industry so you just never know when your paths might cross again. I’ve been lucky to have met a lot of wonderful people in the conference circuit. It is really helpful to have a network of people that you can reach out to share experiences or ask questions.

On the flip side, one of the main reasons that I see people turning away from conferences is because they were attending them with the hopes of bringing home new business. This may incite some dispute (and I’m open to it), but I don’t suggest going to conferences if your primary goal is only to try to obtain hot leads that are ready to close. You may very well get new business but if that is your only measurement of conference ROI, then conferences may not be for you. (Note: this is written as an attendee, not a sponsor which would be a different situation.)

In my experience, conferences are a great place to start and build relationships. Those relationships may, down the road, lead to a business partnership or referrals but it can take a while to foster those ties. There will be some new business opportunities that close a lot faster. All this to say, closing new business isn’t out of the question – but I would argue that there is a stronger ROI in the learning and networking that you have the opportunity to do.

What are your favorite reasons for attending conferences? I’d love to read them in the comments section below!

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