While conferences will never go away, companies of all sizes have put scrutiny on us when it comes to attending conferences and events. What’s the value, they’ll ask, of an event? What’s the ROI? How will we justify our trip? The stingiest will ask, “Why do you need to go since you can just watch the highlights for free on YouTube/Twitter?”
The true value of conferences is more than just the information. Let’s look at what value conferences truly bring:
Conferences Are About Content
Conferences are founded on content; the best conferences, the ones most worth attending, pay their speakers to bring the newest, freshest, most insightful knowledge to the stage. At these events, we’ll learn tons just from passively sitting in the audience, taking notes.
Here’s a tip for determining which conferences have the juice. Whatever industry we’re in, we have a good sense of who the top people are in the industry. Look for events where lots of them appear, and not just on the main stage. If you spot an event where there’s a headline speaker and a whole bunch of people you’ve never heard of, it’s probably not worth your time. If you spot an event where lots of reputable folks are conducting breakout sessions and workshops, chances are the conference is paying for the best roster it can get.
Conferences Are About Conversation
Conferences are conversations at scale. At conferences, we have the rare opportunity to talk, face-to-face, with many of our peers and some of our mentors and teachers. As long as we arrive with a burning question, every conversation we have brings us closer to the answers we seek. Asking so many of our peers and seniors outside of a conference would take ages, and we’d miss the interplay of asking a group of people at the same time and hearing lively debates to our question.
Conferences Are About Community
As with conversation, the best conferences provide a chance for us to expand our community. Some socially-inept people call this “networking”, but they’re usually the folks who are always looking over our shoulders while introducing themselves in case someone more important is behind us.
For everyone else, community is about meeting new people and building a few new friendships or professional relationships at meal tables, at the refreshments, and “in the hallways”. It’s where we connect and reconnect with colleagues and friends and a chance to have those rare conversations.
Conferences Are About Context
Context is probably the most overlooked, most important part of conferences. You won’t hear any conference planner or event organizer mention it explicitly, but I’d argue it’s the most important reason to go to a conference.
When we attend an event – especially when we have to travel for it – we break our daily routines. We’re in a different location, in a different bed, eating different food, waking at a different time of day. These disruptions shake us out of familiar mindsets. Now add these disruptions to content, conversation, and community, and it’s easy to understand why conferences inspire us.
What’s the ROI?
The ROI of conferences is difficult to prove up front.
- What’s the ROI of a great idea?
- What’s the ROI of a longstanding problem solved?
- What’s the ROI of a strategic business connection?
The answers to these questions is enormous ROI – but only if we’ve prepared to seek it out. The better question companies should ask to justify conference and travel budgets is to ask prospective attendees what their burning question is, then determine if the conference is likely to help answer that question. Even the most junior person on a team could have a burning question that the conference might answer – and dramatically boost their contributions to the company.
The value of a conference is what we put into it, by arriving with a burning question and ceaselessly working to find answers for it from the content of the event, the community we meet, the conversations we have at it, and the context throughout.
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