Are you ready to take your marketing know-how to the next level? Thinking of attending a marketing conference?
If so, this article is for you! You'll discover five insider tips to help you make smart decisions when analyzing an event.
The Conference Dilemma
There's a good chance you can only attend one event per year. Picking wisely not only could result in inspiring ideas but also propel your career.
But there’s a legitimate problem we need to address. Many conferences are a complete waste of time and money. If you plan to take time off or stop serving clients, then you'll want to make the best possible event decision.
That's why I've devised a checklist for you below. This is a filter you can use to truly understand if attending any event is a smart investment.
Why Pay Attention to This Article?
Unless you're an event insider, you likely don't fully understand the business of conferences. When you do, it’ll help you clearly see the motives of the event organizers.
I've been a professional speaker for more than 20 years, a conference host for more than a decade, and an attendee at a lot of events across many industries for nearly 20 years.
I’m going to share what I’ve learned from all those experiences, and by the time you finish this article, you'll be equipped to make wise decisions.
Are you ready? Here we go…
#1: Who’s the Real Customer?
If you've been in marketing for a while, you know that YOU are the product on major social platforms like Facebook. They gather insights about you and sell that data to the highest bidder.
Well, guess what?
The same is true for MANY conferences.
Here's how you can find out…
If the event has a large expo hall and the ticket price seems too good to be true, then you’re not the customer. For those events, it's about getting as many people packed into a space and selling you and your data to the sponsors, who are the REAL customers.
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If the event emails you and says you qualify for free extra tickets after you've already purchased a ticket, that's a big red flag. It means they don't have enough bodies to satisfy their sponsors.
As you sign up for the event, do they ask you lots of questions? Many require you to add your job title, how many people work for your company, and your annual revenue!
Why in the world does a conference need that data? There's only one reason.
The information you furnish, along with your email and phone number, will be provided to sponsors so they can endlessly spam you and try to sell you their products or services.
Alternatively, if the event doesn't ask these questions at registration and doesn't seem to have lots of sponsors everywhere, that would be a good sign that YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER.
#2: Do They Focus on Quality Education?
While it might be nice to walk up to a booth of a familiar brand, that's probably not why you attend events.
More than likely, you want to learn something so you can advance your career!
When it comes to actual learning, events that tout panels should be a big red flag for you.
Believe it or not, I recently attended an event with more than 1,000 speakers, and nearly all of them were on 15-minute–long panels—with no breaks in between!
There may have been some brilliant speakers there but they barely had time to say anything.
Having been on a lot of panels myself, I love them as a speaker. Why? Because I get a free event ticket and need to do NOTHING to prepare.
The truth is you can experience panels all day long for free on Twitter Spaces!
The best events don't have any panels. Instead, they have trained professionals who own the stage and deliver exceptional value.
Many events also have a formal “call for speakers” process. The way it works is that a bunch of people make pitches to present and the best ones are accepted.
Here's the rub: the best writers are often selected—those who can convince conference organizers! While I love writers, many don't have what it takes to hold a stage.
The truth is that the call for speakers process often results in people who are highly motivated to pitch their services to the audience—you! And if there's one universal truth, marketers hate being pitched when they come to learn something.
The best events recruit ALL of their speakers. They make it really hard to get picked and they demand no-pitch presentations to attendees.
And if you're wondering why all events don't recruit, it's because that takes a lot of time and is really hard work.
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Those events that recruit do extensive research on every presenter to ensure that they can actually teach and have a reputation for delivering the goods. Some even have talent scouts who are always on the lookout for new speakers.
Recruiting results in speakers bringing original material and working really hard to deliver only their best to event attendees.
Here are a few questions you can ask event organizers:
- What percent of the speakers are solo presenters?
- Do you recruit all of your speakers?
- How do you prequalify your speakers?
- How long is each session? (The standard is 45 minutes.)
#3: Are Speakers Accessible?
If you're like me, one of the reasons you go to events is so you can connect with your favorite speakers.
For example, I really wanted to meet Tom Bilyeu.
I attended an event in Los Angeles. He appeared from behind a black curtain, was interviewed, and then disappeared behind that curtain, never to be seen again.
Needless to say, I was very disappointed.
Unfortunately, this is common at many events. Speakers appear minutes before they present and then rush off afterward.
The best events set different expectations with their speakers. They encourage them to continue the discussion in the hallways long after the speaker's session has ended.
The best conferences ask speakers to remain accessible during the entire conference. This opens up ample opportunities for attendees to make connections with the speakers they really want to meet.
The truly best conferences won't invite speakers back who don't place attendees as their top priority.
Here are a few questions you can ask event organizers:
- How will speakers be accessible after their talks?
- How long is the break between sessions so attendees can talk with speakers?
- Are speakers encouraged to attend the entire conference?
#4: Are Communications Clear?
There's nothing worse than showing up on the event day and not knowing what's happening.
Unfortunately, many events are excellent at promoting their conference but fully drop the ball on attendee communication.
This one is going to be a bit harder to analyze. You may want to ask your peers who've attended the conference how the communications have been historically.
Really good events will be actively sending you detailed information many weeks prior to the event. Those emails should touch on these topics:
- The full schedule
- What to wear
- Suggestions for evening activities
- How to connect with fellow attendees
- Where and when to get your badge
The best events will offer:
- Live onboarding before the event
- An attendee portal with answers to common questions and up-to-the-minute details
- A phone number you can call to get questions answered
- Advice for international travelers
- Instructions on how to use social media at the event
#5: Is Networking Easy During the Event?
Not everyone likes to network but those who do can find it very difficult at many conferences.
I was recently at a very large event in New York City and there was literally nowhere to stop and talk to people.
I had to say, “Meet me at the top of the escalator on the 6th floor.” People were constantly streaming by me! When I finally did meet the person I was planning to connect with, we ended up standing in an abandoned booth for about 45 minutes.
It was nearly impossible to network.
However, some events design networking into the fabric of their event. Ideally, there’s a place that has large round tables that are always accessible so you can find a place to sit and talk.
Events that really care about networking will help facilitate dinner meetups among small groups. They may even have staff dedicated to helping with networking.
Here are a few questions to ask:
- Is there dedicated space for networking?
- Does the agenda have breaks designated for networking?
- Is networking a core value proposition of the event or simply an afterthought?
A Few Final Thoughts
Was this helpful?
It's my hope that this insider look into conferences equips you to make wise decisions with your marketing conference selection.
Having hosted Social Media Marketing World for more than a decade, I've seen things most marketers don't see.
Here are a few other factors you may want to consider:
- Does the event record all of the sessions?
- Is there an option to experience the entire conference via livestreaming?
- What do people who've previously attended the conference say?
Here's to your future conference experience being amazing!
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