Conferences aren’t cheap. That's why my mind is boggled when I see smart businesspeople posting that they’re at one conference and then the next … and the next.
Who has that kind of cash to throw around—and even if you have it, why would you want to spend it like this?
With a new, must-attend event cropping up weekly, there has to be a better way to figure out how to allocate your conference dollars. Let’s take a look at five questions you can ask yourself that will help you streamline your conference spending while maximizing both your networking and learning potential.
What Do I Receive for My Conference Dollars?
At first glance, a conference ticket might seem like a steal. However, before you plunk down any cash, it pays to look at what you’re truly getting in exchange for your money. At some smaller events, you might find that some or all meals are included. There may also be a few exceptional entertainment events scheduled along with intimate, few-to-one dinners with selected keynote speakers.
But instead of just following the tide and jumping on that all-access conference pass because all your colleagues are headed in that direction, decide if the whole conference package is truly going to help you improve as a business owner … or if it’s just a pricey social event where you can rack up some travel reward points.
What Is the Conference Format?
Conferences vary widely in format. The most common formats are single track (all attendees attend the same sessions from start to finish) and multitrack (attendees can choose which sessions they attend, and keynotes are typically shared between all tracks).
Here’s the thing: You know how you learn best. If you get more out of interactive workshops than lectures, why pay to attend a conference that’s mostly lectures? Smaller conferences generally have the most intimate formats, offering hands-on learning opportunities and more face time with presenters. Knowing the conference's format will also help you decide whether a more expensive yet intimate conference will offer you a better experience than a larger, similarly—or even lower—priced conference with more networking opportunities yet little actual hands-on time.
Who Are the Speakers?
You know who the heavy hitters are in your industry. If it’s anything like mine, you see the same names headlining three out of five conferences. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing—these speakers book lead keynotes because audiences love them. But do you truly need to see the same keynote three times in one year?
Here’s a not-so-secret secret (and I can tell you this as a keynote speaker): Most keynote speakers have staple talks. This helps us give a consistently high caliber talk to varying audiences throughout the year. It also keeps you feeling as if the experience we deliver is aligned with the value you expect from a given conference. Nothing’s worse than a speaker who phones it in during a keynote slot.
So are you seeing the same keynote speakers at more than one conference you want to attend, or is the lineup getting mixed up a bit? Look for conferences daring enough to bring in voices from outside your industry—people whom you might not have heard before but have heard great things about. Also look for speakers who offer workshops and keynotes during the same conference, giving you the chance to walk the walk they talk about during their hour.
More importantly, when you regularly attend a certain conference and see the same names year after year on the speaker lineup, speak up to the conference organizers. Tell them who and what you want instead. They don’t make any money unless you buy a registration, so it pays for them to listen to you.
What Are My Goals for Attending This Conference?
There’s nothing wrong with heading to SXSW Interactive in Austin each year to catch up with friends. However, if you’re only going to attend a session or two, you can do almost everything worth doing at that conference without paying the hefty, multiday pass charge of $795. The trick to saving conference cash? Know why you’re going before you go.
After reviewing the speakers, sessions and schedule for any conference you're thinking about attending, write down a list of goals for your conference experience. Whether it’s hearing from an author who just published a favorite book and scoring some post-talk time in their workshop, simple networking, or just being in the buzz of an event, be honest with yourself. Know why you’re spending the cash. With so many conferences offering “virtual badges” (the ability to view key sessions via video post-conference without actually attending), you might find that your goals can be met for less—or you might find that your goals are best met by attending a different event.
What Will It Truly Cost Me to Attend This Event?
We all know that the conference badge is only the beginning of the cost of a conference. From airfare and baggage fees to the hotel, subways, rental car, meals and daily Internet access charges (I can’t believe these still exist), those are just the surface expenses. Let’s talk about the costs we tend to forget:
- When you’re at a conference, it’s highly unlikely you can pay full attention to work. What’s the cost of putting business on hold for X days (and is it worth it)?
- What does it cost to hire pet care for X days while you’re gone?
- Will you be missing key family events—you know, the reason you work so hard and the stuff that makes life worth living?
We also often forget about those other “hidden” charges—until we arrive back home and realize how good it feels to be home. These emotional costs add up, too
So where will you (smartly) spend your conference dollars this year? By asking a few key questions, you can wisen-up your spending habits and still end the year smarter by connecting with the folks with big ideas and finding new connections to make your business life sweeter.
Conferences aren’t cheap, but that doesn’t mean the money you spend attending the best events for your goals has to ever be a waste.
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