Regardless of the industry you’re in, you probably hear about conferences all the time. From marketing conferences to tech conferences and everything in between, these events all promise great speakers, learning opportunities and the chance to network. You can connect with key people in your industry, or send your employees to make those connections. You can stay on the cutting edge of what’s happening, and stay competitive.
In an article featured on Harvard Business Week, there’s a situation cited where Tim Ferriss, the writer of The 4-Hour Workweek, felt like attending South by Southwest in 2007 was a turning point in his career. He’s said in interviews hew as able to meet a lot of influential bloggers who end up being champions of his book and promoting it heavily.
Even so, while there are stories of conferences completing being worth the time and money, how do you know which to attend and whether an event is going to deliver a substantial return on the investment?
If you’re in charge of handling corporate expense claims, how do you determine if you’re going to let an employee go to a conference or maybe you’re going to tell them no?
The following are some things to think about as you’re looking at whether or not a business conference is going to be worth it in terms of the cost versus the possible benefits of attending.
Think About Your Objectives
Sure the promise of important people in your industry can be appealing as you’re deciding whether or not to have an employee attend a conference, but you have to think beyond that.
Think beyond the marketing language the conference organizers are putting out there and try to determine if it is going to be something that isn’t just relevant but aligns with your business objectives.
If you’re past the startup stage, you’re going to need conferences to be at a certain level for them to meet your likely objectives for example. Think carefully about the objectives your business has highlighted for the coming months and see if a particular conference lines up with those.
Rather than getting drawn in by a conference, maybe frame it all differently. Think about where your company’s weaknesses lie within the framework of future objectives and then proactively search for conferences that could address these gaps.
You want conferences and industry event attendance to be something strategic. You want to be able to define a budget and then compare that budget with measurable outcomes to determine your specific return on investment. So while you have larger organizational objectives, also define some very specific objectives for the conference or industry event itself.
For example is your goal to connect face-to-face with current clients or generate new leads? Maybe you’re interested in learning about new technology, or perhaps it’s as simple as brand awareness.
Build a Budget
Rather than deciding on each conference as it comes along, you might want to build a conference budget. Then, within that budget, it’s much easier to determine what’s feasible versus what isn’t.
Using expense management software can be helpful to ensure employees stay on the budget that’s given to them even with expenses related to travel, meals, entertaining and lodging.
Don’t Automatically Dismiss Small Conferences
Sometimes companies, particularly larger ones, might completely dismiss smaller conferences. Sure, there’s plenty to be said for the bigger and often much more expensive ones, but smaller ones have benefits as well.
At a smaller conference, you might find that the focus is more streamlined, and you may find that your experience is richer because you have more opportunities to learn and connect as part of a smaller group as compared to being lost in a sea of thousands.
Logistically bigger conferences and industry events might not work out. It might be too difficult to derive any true value from them, while a smaller but more focused event can provide a lot of value.
Finally, do some research on the other attendees. You can check out the attendee profile to get a feel for some of the people who will be there. You can find this out in different ways. You may be able to check and see who has RSVP’d to the event depending on the invitation format, or maybe you can check out social media and see what people are saying about the event.
A lot of bigger events that take place on a yearly basis will also publish an aggregate attendee profile on their website, so take a look for that as well.