Oct 04, 2012

How To Decide Which Conferences Are Worth Your While

September and October every year are prime time for the conference world.   And with so many choices – and new events popping up almost daily – I thought it might be useful to share some ideas for evaluating whether a conference is a good fit for your organization, whether you’re sending a speaker or planning to sit in the audience to learn and network.

Location, Topics, Who

Location is a factor for a number of people, because that sometimes encompasses the cost.  Generally, I do prefer conferences that are easy for me to get to, and I think a lot of people feel the same.   However, location is often trumped by the following:  Topic of the conference; Who is speaking; and Who is attending.

The Topic of the conference and who is speaking are big motivators for me. It’s not always the big name speakers that bring me in, but the caliber of the smaller sessions.  I find that I tend to learn more in the small breakout sessions than the larger keynotes.  There’s something about being close to the speaker in room where the speaker can engage the audience directly.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing keynotes that I’ve been too, but the personalization that can take place in a room of 50-75 people is hard to replicate.   Some of the best sessions I’ve been to in the past month were sessions that had 30-50 people in them where there was more of an opportunity to listen and ask questions and start true conversation.

This is where who is attending plays a role.  If I see that there are a number of people I know or people whom I want to know are attending – based on companies and titles (which is sometimes published in advance), then I’m all there.  I ask on Twitter or other social networks who might be attending an event and look for the hashtag of the event weeks or even months prior to see what the buzz is like. (note, if you are hosting an event – please choose a short hashtag and start talking about your event as soon as you announce the event).   If I know the caliber of the audience is going to be high, then I can also expect not just to be learning in the sessions, but learning in the breaks too.  However, in the sessions, so much can be learned by the audience asking really good insightful questions.

When do I find I learn the most?

At the recent Content Marketing World, there were so many sessions so full of good speakers that I had a hard time choosing which sessions to go to.  Almost every session that I attended was great – but I actually tended to not go to the sessions that most people were going to.

I looked for interesting topics and I tended to focus more on individual presenters vs. panels.   I tend to enjoy presenters who don’t just talk, but ask questions of the audience to tailor the presentation to who is in the room – not always an easy thing to do.  I also learn more when the pace of the session moves at a good click – but not too fast (admission: as a presenter this is sometimes my biggest mistake).   I also tend to like highly visual presentations because if I wanted to just listen to someone read bullet points, I could simply view the presentation on Slideshare later.

Networking Matters

I also get the most out of events where there is conversation and networking done in the halls and even in the exhibits area.  At the recent Internet Marketing Association Conference in Vegas and the Converge Symposium, I got so much out of just talking and networking with other attendees.   Small conversations that even included access to the speakers were tremendously valuable, and that’s likely why I want to go to these conferences again.

Finally, I really appreciate when conference presentations are made available after the conference and forums allow people to continue to connect and converse after the event.  I so appreciate that Content Marketing World encouraged their presenters to post presentations to Slideshare and elsewhere online after the event.

Putting The Learning to Work!

PR Newswire is hosting the Integrated Communications forum in Seattle next week.  What we’ve learned from putting these events on in 4 other cities this year is being put to use here.  We believe that an Integrated Communications forum must integrate the audience into the conversation to be successful.   We’ve put together a great line up:

  • Rod Brooks, VP & Chief Marketing Officer, PEMCO Mutual Insurance
  • Bill Cox, Senior Director of Marketing Communications, Microsoft
  • Jessica Evans, Senior Account Supervisor, Edelman Digital
  • David Patton, Editor in Chief, Waggener Edstrom
  • Tim Fry, Executive Vice President, General Manager, Weber Shandwick

Just check out how interactive our event in San Francisco and Chicago were earlier this year:

San Francisco: http://storify.com/mpranikoff/content-marke

Chicago:  http://storify.com/bdionline/9-19-chicago-integrated-communications-forum

For conference providers and attendees, I hope you found this helpful, and I hope marketers and communicators in Seattle come out and enjoy our forum next week.

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