59. 8 Reasons to attend an industry conference and 4 ways to get the most out of one
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In this episode, I’m sharing my top eight reasons to attend an industry conference. It can be tempting to get really caught up in our day-to-day routine and not take the time or want to make the investment to travel to an industry event but the rewards can be significant.
Make sure you have a full picture of the big picture of what’s happening in your industry. Use conferences to take a longer view on your business planning, especially in an industry such as ours that is rapidly evolving.
Get perspective and inspiration. Through sessions, workshops and interacting with other business owners, you’ll get all sorts of ideas for your business. You’ll filter through them and decide what’s a fit for your business, but we should all get out of our usual environment and get inspired by what others are doing.
Re-invigorate your energy and passion for your business. If you’re just getting started, this may not be an issue, but once you’ve been running a business for awhile, sometimes you can lose that loving feeling. There’s nothing like a room full of other passionate business owners to re-invigorate your energy for the work that you do.
Solve specific business problems - many conferences have forums for you to leverage to get specific questions asked. GCUC does an “unconference” that runs by crowd-sourcing topics and this year the GWA conference has an hour and a half “Ask an Expert” session. If you go prepared with an agenda, you will not leave with your questions un-answered. And the great opportunity at conferences is to get a good sense of who you think is a credible resource for you and who you trust as an expert. The industry experts that speak at conferences are generally well-vetted by a board or a conference committee or some sort of peer review process so there’s some built-in credibility to the folks that get stage time.
Build relationships with others in the industry that are either at your stage or are even more experienced. You will make a few friends that you can connect with over and over again after the conference and that is worth the ticket price in itself.
Get information you need to build your business plan. If you’re just starting out or if you’re expanding and will need to present to financing sources, nothing will better prepare you than attending an industry conference. A) you get access to the big picture, you can gauge the industry opportunities in person better than any other forum and you are likely to get access to data that will help your business plan or pitch deck.
Meet investors. They may not be easy to spot, but in industries like this one that are growing quickly, there are bound to be sources of funding looking for good operators.
See and be seen. If you have any interest in joining industry groups, taking leadership roles or getting a speaking spot at a future industry event, you have to show up and get to know the folks that organize the events and run the groups.
Five Ways to Get the Most out of an Industry Conference
Attending an industry event can be a big investment in both time and money. Make sure you do some prep work so that you are ready to get a solid ROI.
Know what you want to get out of it - Know your conference “why.” Why are you making the investment? It’s ok to have one of your reasons be that you’re new to the industry and you just want to see what the industry conference is like. But given the investment in a conference - ticket, airfare, hotel, time away from the business, have a few specific objectives to get your return on investment.
Don’t assume that the ROI will be handed to you by the conference organizer. If the agenda looks compelling, that’s a good start. But often times, the most value you will get out of a conference is the conversations that you have with other attendees, in our case, operators or vendors or investors. If you only sit and take in the content from the presentations, you’ll miss half to 75% of the value. From my perspective, the content must be a framework to support the conversations that drive the value. The content must be current and relevant and thought-provoking and inspiring. But most of all, the conference should be designed to support interactions that allow attendees to get what they want out of the conference. At the GWA conference this year, we’re doing this by highly facilitated break-out sessions as well as wrapping up with meet-ups designed to help attendees get their final objectives met.
Know who you want to talk to. Most conferences these days have an app that has an attendee list in it. Get access to it before the event and reach out to other attendees that you want to meet. Or at the very least, make a list. One of my favorite productivity tools is Evernote and when I go to an event, I make a list in Evernote of who I want to chat with. This might sound silly - but I’ve had the experience one too many times that you think you’ll have all the time in the world to bump into the people you want to see and then poof, the conference is over and you can’t believe you didn’t run into so and so who you really wanted to meet.
Know what sessions you want to attend. I’ve also had this happen too many times. There are do-not miss sessions that I’ve eye-balled on the agenda but not committed to in my calendar and I end up in the hallway talking to someone that I haven’t seen in a year and I miss the session. Commit to the sessions that you really want to attend and be disciplined enough to make sure you don’t miss them due to socializing in the hallway.
Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone. Few of us are true introverts. If you read Daniel Pink’s “Drive,” he talked about the idea that most of us are “ambiverts” meaning that we’re a mix of extrovert and introvert. This means that at some point, we all get drained by the energy that conferences require. Long days, lots of interactions, lots of talking to people we don’t know and for many of us, getting up the courage to talk to a stranger. Know that this will happen and go in prepared to manage through it. Maybe you plan to take a break in your hotel room during a session that is less relevant to you or during a built-in break. But if you let yourself succumb to your natural desire to withdraw from the crowds, you may lose out on some of the value of the conference
And now for my plug for my favorite industry event - the Global Workspace Association annual conference. The 2017 date is right around the corner - 9/11 - 9/13 in Miami Florida. Here are all the details. If you can’t make it this year, mark your calendar for 9/12 - 9/14 in Austin, Texas.
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