One could have a very busy business life and do nothing but go to conferences. It seems as if there is an “important, major” conference going on 24×7 and while I keep hearing that the economy has curtailed them, I’ve seen very little evidence of it. As soon as something begins to gain traction in the marketing or media world, BOOM – a conference . Think I’m kidding? Do a search on “social media conference” and see what you get.I’ve always felt as if there were three types of people who go to conferences: Speakers, Sellers, and Seekers. The first group is pretty obvious – they’re attending because they’ve been asked to speak. Other than travel, it’s costing them nothing (and even the travel may be covered by the organizers). Having spoken numerous times at conferences of all sorts I can tell you that you always walk a fine line. You want to be informative and interesting but generally you don’t want to make news. Again, if you’re Bill Gates or Steve Jobs that’s exactly what you’re trying to do but for the rest of us it’s generally not a great idea to give away your trade secrets in public. Speakers are usually hitters, are easy to spot due to their special badges, and they collect more cards at these things than they give away. Often they stay for their session or for their day but will just as often bug out before the conference is complete.
Sellers are there to move product. They want to gather contacts and follow up with a sales pitch. They’re usually the ones that sleep in the session but move like rats on crack during the networking sessions. They’ve paid full rate card for the ticket and may even have paid a huge amount to set up in the exhibit hall.
Seekers are there to get a job. They listen attentively during the sessions since they’re going to hand the speaker their resume after the session and want to appear as if they know a lot about what’s going on. Sometimes they’re there on their company’s dime; sometimes on their own.
Often people fall into 2 categories – speakers who are there to sell or sellers who are looking for the next sales job. I realize that many other folks go to these things just to learn and often they do just that although if you’re keeping up with your industry you generally learn less than you thought. Most of the people with whom I speak tell me that they go to see old friends and make new ones and don’t really expect to learn much in the sessions themselves although sometimes they’re surprised.
I find myself using the conferences I attend as brainstorming sessions. It’s time away from the office and because each session is on a single topic, I will often scrawl notes (which I decipher later) with ideas that pop into my head on that topic. I really do enjoy speaking at them, especially on panels where there is good interaction between the participants.
What do you do at conferences? Do you think they’re worth the money and the time?