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The Value of Conferences – is there any?

Business conferences can be a big waste of time unless you leverage them for your purpose. This blog explains how to get value from conferences.

I know most of the executives and managers out there think business and technical conferences are a waste of money and time.  The golfing may be good, but the value of the content provided is usually questionable.  I tend to agree with this assessment.  I totally disagree however that conferences are a waste of time.  Seems contradictory doesn’t it?  Unfortunately a lot of things in life are contradictory, so I’ll take a moment to address this contradiction.

Why are conferences a waste of time?

  1. Many are so large that you can’t even find the right meeting room
  2. The presenters are more interested in what they have to say than they are in imparting something of value to the attendees
  3. The conference organizers use the event as a very thinly veiled advertisement for their research or magazine or new book or something that brings them revenue
  4. The vendors outnumber the attendees at such a huge scale that attendees spend the majority of their time avoiding the conference locations so they are not harassed by vendors
  5. Attendees spend so much time competing for “freebies” at the vendor exhibits that we have to purchase additional luggage to get our stuff home (maybe that’s just me!!)

So if this is a typical conference, why in the world would I say they are not a waste of time.  The primary reasons actually have nothing to do with the conference content.

  1. You have the opportunity to interact with your peers in a “low risk” environment
  2. You get away from the day-to-day office work and can think strategically about your business
  3. You might actually learn about a new product that you can afford to implement (this happened to be last year much to my surprise!)
  4. If you look for smaller conferences they usually cost less and you can have real conversations with the presenters to get past the presentation and discuss the applicability of their topic to your business
  5. Conferences are an ideal environment for team building with your business associates

So how do you make a conference valuable to you and your organization?

  1. If you are attending a conference while you read this, stop just sitting there trying to take in the presentation and talk with someone.  You will learn a lot more by talking with peers than listening to presentations.
  2. Pick your conferences based on who is likely to attend rather than the presenters or sponsors.
  3. Attend all the cocktail hours and meals with the intent of learning something from another attendee.  You’ll be surprised what asking the right questions will reveal.

By using the tips described above, I attended a very useful conference lately.  For more information on what I learned, see my next blog entry.