Going to a conference can be one of the best investments your company makes this year, or it can be a boondoggle that wastes your time and money. The trouble is telling in advance which one it's most likely to be. Here are six signs that a conference should go on your "skip" list, letting you instead spend that time and money focusing on an excellent event, staff training or marketing.
1. It Advertises Using Junk Mail
Though it's true that all conferences advertise, and most run for a profit, be wary of any conference you hear of first via a blast email or direct marketing. Attend instead those conferences that you hear about organically; for example, from positive reviews on blogs you subscribe to or from colleagues in the industry.
2. It Has the Same Speakers Every Year
A conference that has the same keynote speaker every year tells you one of two things: 1) It's not a robust enough conference to draw many presenters; 2) It exists primarily to sell the goods or services of that speaker.
High-quality conferences will seek out new voices and ideas for each event, to offer the widest variety of ideas possible. Every conference will have a handful of regulars, but the overall roster should change.
3. It Has the Same Material Every Year
This is the flip side of the "same speaker every year" coin. If the classes this year are the same as last year, the conference probably exists mostly to pitch a certain series of classes or tools. It's also likely the conference leaders don't try to stay up with changes in the industry. Either way, you're better off going to a conference with different offerings each time.
4. It Uses "Trust Me" Advertising
If a stranger tells you to trust him, that's a strong hint that you shouldn't. If a friend protests that he isn't lying before you suggest he might be, there's a better than average chance that he is. If a conference's advertising seems to be going overboard to stress its quality and reputation, and talk up its panel of "famous experts," without many details, that probably means the quality is low, its reputation is poor or its panel actually consists of people who are neither famous nor experts. Stay away.
5. You're Invited to Present Without Providing Credentials
This trick accomplishes two things at once. It plays on your ego by telling you you're knowledgeable enough to present, and it fills their roster at a low cost to the people who run it. True, a professional such as yourself is perfectly qualified to present on at least one topic—and reputable conferences might reach out to you. But unless they know you, they'll also ask to see your credentials. Similarly, avoid conferences that charge you for speaking. Not all quality events can afford to pay you to present, but none will ask you to pay to contribute.
RELATED: 8 Commandments of Networking
6. There's No Built-In Time for Networking
The difference between a conference and a sales presentation is how much energy the presenters put into serving your needs. If they've packed the event with time to show you what they have to offer, but left no slots for you to talk with people about what you do, then it's a sales presentation. Look instead for conferences that have a scheduled mixer, dinner or other social time built in.
Read more articles on sales.
Jason has contributed over 2,000 blog and magazine articles to publications local, regional and national. He speaks regularly at writing and business conferences.