You probably wondered what’s the best way to keep up to date with information, trends and best practices in your industry. We suggest regularly attending conferences. Attending them can prove to be a sound business strategy. Read on to find out why.
Is it worth spending time and money on conferences? There is an abundance of valuable knowledge within hand’s reach: industry websites, magazines, new books from all over the world, not to mention video content and podcasts. You can even reach out directly to experts on LinkedIn or Twitter.
If we stick to this assumption, we could say that instead of going to study in another city or country, we should just buy textbooks and meet the lecturer on Zoom or Teams. However, there are many good reasons why travelling to gain knowledge and experience. Find out what tangible value you will gain from attending good conferences.
1. Gain valuable knowledge
Practical knowledge, new ideas and hot industry trends. Plus in-depth analyses, case studies and personal stories of success and failure. And all performed by tested speakers and industry experts. That’s a dream conference package. Expect to be positively surprised! After all, you're not paying to hear stuff you already know and browse the web on your phone out of boredom during the presentations.
Attending a good 45-minute presentation means long hours saved for exploring the topic yourself. The knowledge is filtered and reliable, which lets you understand the context of the problem, learn about all of its dimensions, challenges or trends. A well-prepared and attractively delivered presentation based on a high quality deck makes it easier to remember the content. Such a presentation is like a tasty, healthy and intellectually calorific dish.
New ideas and inspiration are a tangible value that will help you in your work. Before you decide whether to go to a particular event, review the topics of speeches and speakers. If they aren’t yet available, review agendas of past editions. Assess if they sound like sources of real value, or they are full of promotional or marketing content.
2.You will meet the best people in your industry
Apart from the quality of the knowledge itself, who delivers it is equally as important. Therefore, the attractiveness of an event is determined by the line-up of keynote speakers, special guests, speakers, as well as the participants.
Their credibility, competence and recognizability determine the rank of the event. The opportunity to see and hear the speaker live, and then to talk to them directly, is one of the greatest values participating in conferences brings. Often a conference is the only opportunity to meet the special guests face to face, ask for their opinion or professional advice.
Remember that there are two levels of communication. The first is official and public. That’s what you hear and see during presentations or workshops. The other level is individual communication that happens when you hold informal conversations. It’s an opportunity to develop trust and talk off the record. This is when you gain unique knowledge by exchanging industry news and information. It’s the rare opportunity when you can casually talk to your competition, and confront different approaches to issues you are dealing with.
3. You will gain new competences
Often at conferences what the speakers talk about during their presentations is expanded in-depth during their workshops. Review the conference program thoroughly and with an open mind. Often, in addition to workshops related to your field of expertise, you can also take advantage of sessions devoted to e.g. soft skills development. Spending a few hours together in a workshop with presenters and other participants will also allow you to get to know them better, establish rapport and learn from them. This is an added benefit to the pure content of the workshops.
4. Expand your network of contacts
Every conference is an opportunity to make new contacts. Today, networking sessions are often a must-have part of events. Networking is all about interacting with people. The opportunity to talk face to face with experts and thought leaders, people you know from Linkedin or follow on other social media. During the conference you have many opportunities to talk to keynote speakers, guests or participants.
Networking is also an opportunity to look for new career opportunities, and scout new teammates. If you are just starting out in a new career, or would like to change jobs one day, attending a conference is a great opportunity to get to know the community. Once you are ready for your next career move, you will have a broader network to reach out to.
Develop a professional network, collect business cards or, much easier today, add friends directly to your contacts on LinkedIn. Conferences encourage openness and ease in networking. Make the most of this time, especially if you have access to special guests or international speakers. And remember, you can always ask someone you know to make an introduction or facilitate a connection.
Are you an expert with interesting insight to share? Do you dream of appearing on stage as a speaker? Make it a priority to network with the event organizers and introduce yourself as a subject-matter expert. Remember, pushy self-promotion is not welcome, but if you say what you do and how it can be useful to others, you will be perceived as a credible person. This builds trust, which translates into lasting relationships.
You may feel uncomfortable in this role at first, but it's also an opportunity to overcome fear.
Prepare for these conversations. Develop a verbal business card of a few sentences that you can use whenever you introduce yourself. Tell a vivid story, think if there is an analogy or metaphor that aptly describes who you are and what you do. Creating your own story is also a process, and interview questions will help you with this. You'll get a lot of valuable feedback that you can put into practice right away.
6. Learn about new products and companies
When visiting the expo area, talk to the people representing the event’s business partners or sponsors. Not only are they a valuable source of knowledge, but they themselves often have an extensive network of contacts. They are always willing to introduce you to the world of their business and the solutions they provide. If these issues are new to you, you have the opportunity to broaden your knowledge during a short conversation. Also tell them about your industry or company, you may be surprised how much they know about it. Knowledge of new products and services can make the difference between today and tomorrow. By the way, pay attention to how they talk about themselves, it could be a valuable free lesson in professional sales.
7. Improve communication skills
Soft skills are just as important as specialist knowledge, and conferences are an excellent testing ground for practising them. Participating in workshops or discussions is an opportunity to speak in front of an unfamiliar audience. Networking and talking to new people is an opportunity to polish the delivery of the story about yourself or your business. You learn not only by your own practice, but also by carefully observing how others do it. Talking to dozens of new people at the conference is an excellent testing ground for self-presentation and communication.
8. Invest in yourself
Knowledge and consulting cost money. At a conference you can get both for a fraction of the price. You also get time and access to people who are happy to talk to you, or arrange to meet with you later. You can talk to them behind the scenes, over lunch or at a side event. There’s usually little time pressure and the atmosphere is creative. Make the best of the time and opportunities you are given.
9. Discover new places
Work or your own business doesn't mean you don't have time to relax. Such activity is fostered by side events which make the conference experience even more worthwhile. Going to a conference is also an opportunity to get to know a new city. Sometimes it is worth booking an extra day and using it to get to know the place or visit friends. Don't underestimate the power of a good time combined with time spent with interesting people.
10. Open yourself up to new opportunities
You never know who you might meet, what unexpected things might happen. The English word “serendipity” is a good reflection of this situation. In life as well as in business, apart from work and planning, coincidences, accidentally meeting people, who later become our friends, are helpful. A proactive attitude and curiosity are a way to nurture creativity and go beyond the beaten path. Open yourself up to new opportunities - look for and to create them.
To sum up, taking part in a conference is beneficial for your professional and personal development, it gives you tools and skills which are hard to learn on your own. After all, when solving problems, looking for inspiration or professional opportunities, you need people with whom you have met face to face and who can trust you. You won't build that kind of relationship on LinkedIn.
In the words of Warren Buffet, not only one of the world’s richest entrepreneurs, but also a man addicted to reading and expanding his knowledge - The more you learn, the more you earn.