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One of the most common questions asked of conference organizers goes something like this:

“How do I justify this conference? Why should I attend it?”

The short answer is: no conference can provide justification. None. Even if some conference marketers make “justify your trip” collateral.

Why? A conference by itself is just a gathering of people, and while it would be amazing to deliver everything to everyone, the reality is that a conference is more like a mirror than anything else.

What do I mean?

Stephen K. Hayes tells a wonderful story about the innermost shrine of the Togakure village temple. In this shrine is a source of enlightenment and power like no other. Every year, the priests of the temple conduct grand, elaborate rituals to honor this holy power, and aspirants come from around the world to catch a glimpse at it. When the pilgrims are all assembled before it, the doors are opened and the power is revealed: a simple round mirror.

We are our own sources of power and truth.

When it comes to conferences, we determine its worth, not the conference, by what we hope to achieve. “Is this conference worth it?” is the wrong question.The better question is, do you have a burning question you need answers to, and if you do, does this event move you closer to answering it or further away?

If you don’t have a burning question, the blunt and honest truth is that you should expect to get nothing out of a conference or any other event, no matter how good, how flashy, how A-List the keynote speakers are, etc.

On the other hand, once you have a burning question you need an answer to, figuring out whether the speakers and attendees of an event are likely to help you move forward towards an answer will be relatively straightforward.

Look at who’s discussing the conference on social media; do fellow attendees have similar questions in advance of the event?

Examine the speakers’ backgrounds on LinkedIn. Will these people help you answer your question?

A small conference or event with 50 people, of whom 25 might have the answer you seek, will be far more valuable than a 150,000 person conference where 5 people might have the answer you seek. Until you have a burning question, you will not be able to judge the difference between the small event and the giant one.

You will know only the worth of a conference by the questions you have.

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4 responses to “Is this conference worth it?”

  1. I get it, but how do you know if the conference will answer your burning question if there isn’t enough info about the conference? For instance, the person was saying that there was no agenda posted. 

    For me, there are three reasons why I should attend a conference:
    a. I will get answers to questions I have (i.e. I will learn something)
    b. I will make great connections (i.e. networking)
    c. I will gain experience (i.e. speaking, presenting, or other kind of experience)

    In order to assess whether the conference will match one or more of my criteria, I do the following:
    – check out the agenda (who’s speaking, what topics)
    – check out content for previous years (if posted online)
    – search Twitter and other places for comments about the conference

    If you are going to spend money (conferences are not cheap, especially if you have to fly) and time (usually more than a day, especially if flying), you got to do your research beforehand.

  2. I don’t know if it’s about a burning question.  It seems to me if you know what your burning question is,there may be better ways to get answers than through a conference.  Go to classes, read a book, search for people with answers on the internet.  

    What about if you want to be exposed to new things and new people and to see old ideas used in a different way.  To experience alternative universes of people doing similar things you do in your work but in different ways and to see how they solved problems similar to your own.  

    I think many times especially in our information overloaded worlds, we know we need to know more but don’t know what our questions are.  I think THIS is the reason to go to a conference – to actually figure out what your burning questions are. 

    And ya, the guy wants to see the agenda.  I wouldn’t go to a conference without seeing the agenda.

  3. […] Arrive with a BURNING question that you ask everyone you meet. What one question MUST you get answered in order for the conference […]

  4. Great discussion. Figure out what you need, then find the event that will help you find it.

    I think that’s the key!

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