Full disclosure: I’m the Conference Director for the BlogWorld and New Media Expo. Prior to being hired, I was a conference attendee and checked in on several each year for the learning, networking and professional opportunities they provided. I’m not here to sell BlogWorld, but rather to help you make the best choice for your needs. Conferences are expensive, so if you’re shelling out a couple of grand for hotel, airfare and a ticket, be sure it’s an event that’s right for you. Here are some tips for choosing a professional conference to attend.
What is the Conference About?
This is going to sound silly, but if you’re a dentist you don’t want to go to a accountant convention. I enjoy attending geeky conferences, usually having to do with social media, blogging or the interactive. However, the technical end doesn’t interest me so I don’t generally attend techy conferences, even though some of them may be popular with “my crowd.” As a freelance writer I didn’t attend many journalistic conferences, either. That’s because I wasn’t a journalist, but also because I felt them to be too limiting as I was moving beyond writing into social media.While a journalistic conference would have some value for me, I know a conference focusing on blogging and social media is more suited to my needs. Many of my writing friends find writing or journalism conferences to be extremely beneficial.
Before investing in a conference, learn everything you can about it to find if it’s the best event for your needs – and only you know what those needs are. Some conferences are attended by 10,000 people or more, while other conferences only accept a couple of hundred. If you’re interested in learning and networking in a less crowded atmosphere, the amount of attendees will make a big difference in your choice.
What is Your Purpose for Attending a Conference?
Some conferences are known more for their party-like atmosphere, while others are serious learning events. Before committing to a conference take some time to list your wants and needs as an attendee, then research the conferences that interest you to see which one will give you the most bang for your buck. My preference is for a conference that will provide learning and networking opportunities. I know others who attend for the parties. I also know one blogger who only buys the trade show passes because he wants to learn about new gadgets and doesn’t care so much for the learning sessions.
If you’re interested in learning, find the conferences with the most session choices, and the classes and speakers that interest you most. If it’s gadgetry you’re after, consumer shows are probably more up your alley. If it’s the parties you’re after, well you’ll want to find the conferences with the most attendees because they usually spawn the most parties. Also, a younger crowd is a party crowd (usually). You might also want to see which conferences appeals to your demographic – including age.
Making Decisions Based on the Recommendations of Others
The best way to learn about a conference is to read past reviews. Read the recommendations of others who are in the same boat and have attended the same conferences you’re considering. Mind you, some people like to jump on the keyword bandwagon and recommend or review conferences simply because it will bring them traffic. You’re probably best taking the advice of someone who actually attends conferences. Read their blog posts, read news reviews, look for videos and reach out to attendees to gauge the pros and cons of each event. Find out if the conferences are worth the money. Did attendees learn something? Did they gain news business? Did they make important contacts? (The answer is “yes” for me, by the way, for every conference I’ve attended.)
Are you considering a conference? What’s keeping you from attending?
Do you attend conferences? How do you choose the best one for you?