We often find ourselves answering the conference questions, to justify time out of the office or the daily mix. And those questions are: "What is the return on investment for attending conferences?" Or, "There are so many conferences in any given year. Which ones should I attend and why?"
In March alone we faced yet another flurry of conference options: SXSW in Austin, SES New York, Digiday's Digital Publishing Summit, AppNation's Advertising and Media Summit in New York, OMMA Behavioral, The Social Consumer, and numerous others taking place, crowding our calendars and our headspaces.
So, how do we approach this web of industry activity?
From our point of view, there are a few things to keep in mind, as we navigate all of these programs:
BE WHERE YOU ARE. For whatever you choose to attend, be present, engaged, interactive and plan to contribute to the conversation -- live, on your feet and through your social networks. If you are going to spend the time, keep your head in the game at hand rather than in some half-engaged state. If you are mentally going to stay back at the office, you may as well stay back at the office.
DON'T FEEL PRESSURED TO DO IT ALL. Choose your commitments based on where the best concentration of several types of opportunities exist for you: the ability to uncover new ideas and really learn something; access to new business; visibility in key business circles; strategic networking; discovering new ways to enhance your business.
FIGURE OUT YOUR BALANCE. Attending in an engaged manner means blending time on the floor, joining the panels and sessions most relevant for you and connecting with others in town or in attendance both during the show and during key social events. Figure out how much of each event makes sense for your goals.
KEEP UP WITH THE BUZZ. Social buzz, daily news blasts, product announcements, business launches, live feeds -- all these things are part of the experience. In the spirit of immersion, you should integrate all of these to some degree. You will walk away well-versed, having fully experienced the conference. This fuels your business and client conversations in the days ahead.
DIAL IN YOUR DEAL-MAKING. Not every conference will be appropriate for active deal-making. Know the culture of the conference you are attending. For many, it is in the weeks that follow a conference when the most business gets done. Actively talking business and working the deal at a given conference may in fact be frowned upon or just not practically possible amid the noise. Other conferences are all about getting deals done all day long. Know where you are and dial your expectations into the environment.
MAKE THE ONE-DAY CONFERENCE YOUR FRIEND. Some conference companies and programming folk accomplish more in one day with their agenda than others do in a full week. These shows are worth a look. And, they often fit into a larger series for the event company at hand. There's a lot to be said for immersing for one day, engaging your brain and contributing to the conversation -- and then getting back to work.
Because all of us -- sellers, buyers, client services folk, industry leaders, media company and agency executives -- keep company in various industry circles, there can be a certain perceived peer pressure to be seen at conferences, and then to justify our participation. We'll be following our own advice during upcoming conferences -- dividing and conquering, and engaging meaningfully, wherever we choose to be. That way, it becomes much more reasonable to expect a return on the experience.