According to a study by the Convention Industry Council, 1.83 million corporate/business meetings, conventions, conferences, congresses, and trade shows were held in the U.S. in 2012, involving an estimated 225 million participants. 273,700 of these were conventions/conferences/congresses that involved approximately 61 million participants. So no matter what industry you work in, no matter what your job role is, no matter what stage you are at in your career, there are most likely a great many conferences and other industry gatherings you might want to attend. With so many conferences and other events, how do you choose which ones to go to?
This is not an easy decision. And it’s often an expensive one. When you add it all up – registration fee, lodging, meals, flights and/or ground transportation…conferences don’t come cheap. If you’re paying out of your own pocket, you certainly want to make sure you get a good bang for your buck. If your employer is paying, you can be sure he or she will want a solid return on the investment.
Here’s a list of 6 factors to consider to help you choose the best conferences to attend, whether as an attendee or an exhibitor:
- High-Quality Agenda
You want to go to the conferences that will be most beneficial to your current position and provide you with personal growth opportunities. The conference agenda can often give you a good sense. Spend time looking closely at the agendas for different conferences you’re considering. Look for content that can immediately translate value to your current position and your company. Think about the topics covered and the depth of coverage of those topics. And the format of the sessions - how the topics will be approached. You want to be sure, or as sure as you can be, that the conference topics and approach offers you something you can’t get anywhere else. Ask yourself why a particular conference is unique and how it will be uniquely beneficial to you.
- High-Quality Speakers
Research the speakers. If they are all executives at the sponsor company, that’s probably a red flag. You want to be sure the speakers are people you really want to learn from. Watch any videos you can find of presentations the speakers have given. If they publish a blog, read it and see how good you find the insight they provide. Remember - not every big-name speaker gives great presentations. Do your due diligence and seek out speakers who have a reputation for giving outstanding presentations.
- High-Quality Attendees
You should look for conferences that are attended by people you would like to meet and network with. Some conferences post on their site the names and titles of everyone who has registered. Many do not, but do post a list of companies that will be in attendance. Use social media - the conference twitter feed, facebook page and/or conference hashtag are good places to scout out attendees. Read any reviews you can find online of the conference in previous years. Try to find conferences that are known for the quality of the attendees. Try especially to find ones with reputations for great networking opportunities.
The conference location is an important factor to consider, primarily because it will greatly impact the cost of attendance. How far do you have to travel? How much will flights cost? Can you fly direct? How much does the hotel cost? Cost is critical, but also think about whether it’s a place you’d enjoy visiting. You’ll hopefully have a little downtime so think about what the area offers – restaurants, entertainment, cultural activities, outdoor activities, etc. – whatever is important to you.
The duration of the conference matters a lot too. How many days is it? Will you attend the entire conference or only part of it? How many days will you be away from work? How many nights away from home? Important considerations, not only from a cost perspective.
Conferences come in all different sizes. Some only accept a couple hundred people. Some are attended by thousands. Think about what you hope to accomplish and what size conference will best suit your goals. For example, if you want to learn and network in a less crowded atmosphere, make sure it’s not a conference that draws a cast of thousands.
We’d love to hear what you think. How do YOU choose which conferences to attend? Are there other factors you consider?
We'll continue the conversation at Convention Nation if you'd like to join us. you can share reviews and ratings of conferences and other events you’ve attended. You'll be part of a community of conference, convention and trade show attendees sharing their experiences and learning from each other. Become better informed as to the best events to attend, with the best professional networking opportunities for you!