You won’t know if a conference has real value until you determine what good ROI looks like to you.
Entrepreneurs have no shortage of conferences, retreats, seminars, meet and greets and good old fashioned networking events to choose from every year. And no matter what different clever or punchy name a particular industry soiree may go by, the question business leaders ask themselves remains the same: is attending it worth my time? If not, is it worth my employees’ time?
Let’s face it—events aren’t usually cheap. And the good ones always seem to be a long flight and multi-night hotel stay away. Nevertheless, conferences and trade shows are necessary evils even in today’s hyper-connected world. Face-to-face interactions and information exchanged along with eye contact still go further than digital introductions, and it doesn’t hurt to have your organization represented especially if you’re sharing space with vendors or partners.
How you derive value from an event comes down to how well you’ve strategized which to attend, and whom to send. Personally, I’m not a fan of jamming my company’s calendar with conference after conference and pulling key personnel away from doing what they do best. But if I can zero in on the ones that actually deliver my organization 10x the ROI, I think it’s worth it.
Actually assessing a number value can take away some of the subjectivity in measuring the success of these events, but the truth is you have to discover your sweet spot the hard way at first. I’ve sat through countless conferences with one eye on the clock and the other checking for the next available flight home. And in so doing, I’ve discovered some guidelines that help me gauge if I’m getting the biggest bang for my buck at industry events.
Know why you’re going
Don’t wing it. Even if this is your first conference experience, you should have a set of ROI goals in place before you even get there. They can be subject to change as you learn more about what’s possible at these events, but improvising your way through will leave you at a disadvantage.
If you’re sending a few of your people to represent your company, make sure they’re excited to be chosen. That seems like a no-brainer, but there’s a difference between looking forward to actively putting in a long day of relationship-building and looking forward to some time away from the office. Conferences are marathons within sprints, so attendees have to know they’re in for two or three exhausting days
Social media tells a story
Social media will tell you exactly how much your chosen conference teams are really getting out of an event. There are so many social tools at their disposal with which to research fellow attendees and at least make a preliminary list of people to talk to. Going in with a plan and even reaching out to others to set up meetings ahead of time shows the right level of engagement.
At the event itself, your employees should feel empowered to own the experience. They should be constantly engaged with not only others at the event but with the rest of your team back home, sharing their findings in real time and sending notes back that can be implemented right away.
Nothing’s more important than the 9-to-5
Whoever you choose to send (including yourself) has to understand the sacrifice being made. Not only is there a monetary sacrifice involved – which will always come back to you and the business regardless of who attends – but time spent away from the office as well.
If you’re going to commit to a conference experience, then actually go all in. Don’t spend 80% of your time catching up on work emails and rushing back to your hotel room once the day’s schedule has concluded. Be prepared to close the computer, be an active participant and listen to what’s being discussed. If a major project at home threatens to distract you from making the most of a high-value dinner conversation at a conference, then you’re better off not going
What happens at the conference stays with you afterwards
So you sent a small team to a Thursday-Friday conference. Come Monday, are they keeping their experience to themselves? Or do they have a presentation ready to go that’s chock full of new ideas inspired by what they’ve learned? If you or your team weren’t inspired several times over to start putting things you learned into practice, then the conference should go straight to your Do Not Attend list.
Similarly, your event-goers should be able to slap a big stack of business cards down on the conference room table. Not everyone is a born-ready networker, but with proper pre-event due diligence you should have no trouble transitioning from social media to real-world interactions. The dinners you attended, tabs you picked up and late-night conversations you had may even be more beneficial than the docket of speakers during the daytime.
Conferences don’t have to be your favorite things in the world. They certainly aren’t mine. But as you learn more about how to navigate them and the benefit they can provide if you approach them with the right strategy, you start to see the value in your money and time investments.
Meet Justin Gray
Justin is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest revenue operations agency having implemented over half of the Marketo user base. Justin has made a career of launching successful companies and scaling them, with successful exits of over 200MM+ in the last decade. Justin’s latest endeavor launched in 2016 when he co-founded Six Bricks an online learning startup designed to combat employee and customer churn through experience-based education. Over the past 10 years, Justin has emerged as a strong voice for entrepreneurship, marketing and culture. As a recognized speaker, Justin has been published over 350 times in industry publications and holds his own column, Tribal Knowledge in Inc., while writing for Entrepreneur, Tech Crunch and others. Justin and his wife Jennifer met over marketing and three years later welcomed their son, Grayson, into the world in April of 2017.