Figuring out whether you and your team should attend a conference can be tricky. Getting out of the office sounds like a no-brainer, but when you start thinking about taking time "off," traveling, paying for the conference itself, and what you'll actually do once you get there, the answer starts to feel a little less clear.
So how can you figure out whether a conference is "worth it" to attend? How can you make the decision to send your team ... or not? While your decision will ultimately depend on what your team does, what your goals are, and how much budget you have available, below are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out whether you should be packing your suitcase for the event.
1) Will the conference help you develop better relationships?
Many people overlook the value of developing relationships with clients, partners, and customers at in-person events. Shaking somebody's hand and delivering the phrase "So nice to finally meet you!" could make the difference between a good relationship with someone important to your business and a great one.
If the event location happens to be in your contact's hometown or you know they'll be attending the event, it might make sense for you to allocate budget to attending, too. These opportunities can be few and far between, so putting some of your budget towards conferences that allow you to have that face-to-face time can be worth it.
2) Will the conference help you generate quality leads?
If you're sending your team to stand in a booth all day, think about the cost of the quality leads you may or may not obtain. Is spending $5K-$10K on a three-day tradeshow worth the handful of business cards you collected?
It's very possible that it could be worth it, depending on the size of the conference, type of people who attend, where your booth is located, and what your average deal size is -- but the important thing here is to think about what kind of results you'd need to justify sending people to the conference. The best conferences you can attend will not only bring in leads for your company, but also educate your team, strengthen external relationships, and help your team develop skills related to their jobs.
Which leads us to our next point ...
3) Can you prove ROI to management?
Return on Investment: A term marketers are all too familiar with. Proving a conference's value to your management can be a challenge, especially if your company is on a tight budget. And how do you prove ROI before you've even booked your ticket to the conference?
Though you can't really calculate ROI until after you've spent the time and money attending, here are two things you could use to uncover the conference's potential impact:
Opportunity Cost: If you don't send your team, what would you be missing out on? What knowledge or skill set would you not be developing to grow at your job and ultimately help the company? What connections would you miss out on? The answer to these questions can be tricky to find, but Googling the event's past reviews could come in handy.
Competitors: Are they going to the event? How is their marketing grade compared to yours? Did they attend this conference last year and get a ton of engagement from it? Knowing this information can help understand the potential ROI -- if your competitors had success last time, it means that there's a market of people at the event who could be a good fit for your company, too.
4) Are there speaking opportunities available?
You don't have to just be an attendee to get value from a conference.
For example, there might be an opportunity to speak about something you're an expert in. Maybe the conference website has a call for interested speakers, and you could sign yourself up. Or maybe you know someone who's running the event, and you send 'em a quick note explaining your interest in speaking. Or maybe you see a panel already booked on the website that you know you could add value to, and you let the organizers know. By being a speaker, you not only can establish yourself as a credible expert, but you also have a handy "excuse" to tune into the rest of the sessions that day.
5) Can you easily make connections with others on social media?
Sometimes, engaging on social media with other event attendees can be just as valuable as actually attending the conference. Many conferences will have a hashtag, a Twitter account dedicated to the event, a place to take pictures, live video streaming, and more, giving you lots of opportunities to meet and connect with other people at the conference. If a conference doesn't make this easy for you, you might need to get creative to find new, interesting people to meet. (And those efforts could be time-consuming and/or expensive.)
6) Can you blog about it after? (And will that blog post perform well?)
As an inbound marketer, you're always trying to figure out what piece of content to create next. When you're evaluating an event, take a second to consider whether you could create any content from the conference that your readers would want to read about. Could you recap one of the panel discussions or find time to interview one of the best speakers for your next blog post?
If the answer to these questions is "yes," this event could be of great value for you. Blogging about your experiences will give you a chance to better engage with your fellow attendees and get traffic to your site. If you do a really bang-up job on the post and the conference coordinators notice, you might even use that post as proof that you should be considered for the following year's speaking roster.
If you're going to a technical, job-focused event that doesn't pertain to your audience, you might not want to write about the event itself, but you might be able to use some of the skills you learned from the conference in your next post.
7) When you're out of the office, who (or what) is going to manage your marketing responsibilities?
Do you have the right tools put in place to manage your work while your team is out for a few days? While the answer to this question may not make or break whether you actually attend the conference, it's a crucial question to ask yourself before you commit. Here are a few processes you will need to set up while you're gone:
Set an out-of-office automatic response for your work email. They don't have to be dry -- here are some funny and creative ways to write an out-of-office message.
Schedule external content (emails, blog posts, social posts) to send while you're gone. This way, you're not sacrificing traffic- or lead-generation while you're not physically sitting at your desk.
Ensure you've set clear instructions for those who won't be attending in case anything goes wrong.If the intern is hanging back while you're out, you will need to make sure you let her/him know what to do when X person calls or emails, or if the CEO asks for a status update on something.
8) Will the event help you and your team grow professionally?
The right conferences not only allow you to meet smart, inspiring people, but also teach you a ton -- especially in skills that make you a more well-rounded professional. So when you're evaluating a conference, think about whether the people from your team can attend and actually develop new skills. This will happen even more naturally if you are attending the conference with other people from your organization that are on different teams -- the conference can help you make better internal connections and better understand your team's world.
9) Is this a good team-building opportunity?
Something gets the team out of the office and into a setting where everyone can relax and relate to each other -- like an industry conference -- can work wonders for team bonding. Developing closer connections helps people work better together and makes them happier. When that next difficult, time-consuming project comes up, everyone might be much more willing to jump in and help their fellow coworker.
What other questions do you ask yourself before committing to attending an event?
Originally published Mar 30, 2015 6:00:00 AM, updated August 29 2017