In 2014, PriceWaterHouse Cooper released a study saying there there were 284,600 conventions, conferences or trade shows in the United States, with over 87 million attendees from around the world. Coupled with the knowledge that North America only accounts for 26% of the world’s exhibition space, and you can begin to see a problem:
How does a business owner possibly decide where their money is best spent?
We asked some experts for tips and tricks to make your conference budget go further, and to help identify the best conferences to visit around the world. Here’s what they had to say:
Share the Love
Connor MacNeil @JumpSuit_Mac
HubSpot’s Inbound is a must-attend for any company seeking to develop or expand their online presence. The three-day conference plays host to innovative speakers such as Malcolm Gladwell and Gary Vaynerchuck while also providing a variety of classroom sessions on and endless topic list.
Inbound is an amazing forum to learn how your brand can compete in an ever-evolving digital marketplace. HubSpot addresses innovation foresight, current strategy advice and general business operations management.
For those on a budget a single ticket can be shared between team members, however only one member can attend classroom events at a time if you deploy this strategy.
Find your Niche
Robyn Davis @Robyn_WINH
I recommend matching the event and participation option to their goals by asking:
Where can they meet the people who are best suited to help them accomplish their goals?
Which format, considering their available resources, is best suited to help them accomplish their goals?
Two key resources small businesses can use to find these events include the Trade Show Calendar (which provides access to a searchable database listing trade shows in various industries, hosted on industry websites). For companies in the tech space, Tech Meme includes a lot of events specifically for startups/small businesses.
Lea Hatch @AboveBartending
The best conference we have attended has been The Night Club and Bar convention. An exhibitor’s ticket is only $99 if you register early and the exposure to new products is mind blowing for our staff. The keynote speech as well a pool party and a happy hour party-with free food and drinks-are included with all tickets.
We have attended this conference for three years in a row and each year it gets better and better.
Look the Part
Richard C. Kelleher @phoenixrichard
I’ve snuck into the Inc 5000 in 2012 and 2014.
Ironically, in 2012 I had business at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge resort. As I’m walking through (fortunately I was wearing a suit), someone said I needed to see the speaker in the main showroom. Walked in, no credentials.
It was a very educational speech. Stayed for a few more days (hey, I live less than five miles away).
The Inc 5000 came again in 2014. Once more I was brazen. Again, very educational. Again, no credentials. Except this time, they showered me with trash and trinkets (about $200 worth).
There’s conferences at this resort every week – I’m open to invitations from groups meeting there. Yet, Inc 5000 was the only one I was brazen enough to crash, twice, and it was very educational.
For me as a sole proprietor, I can only choose 1 or 2 conferences per year, and I need to assure I get the biggest bang for my dollars. To me, that means a conference that will be extremely valuable for business development. At this stage, it is about making connections and building a client pipeline.
The conference that I have found the most valuable is the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s annual Leadership Conference.
For me as a certified diverse supplier, this conference is key to business development.
Many Fortune 500 firms now include LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) owned businesses in their supplier diversity mix, and this conference offers re-arranged matchmaker sessions with corporate buyers as well as a business expo where I can have short introductory conversations with corporate representatives. What a wonderful oppportunity for a small company like mine!
And on top of that, the NGLCC offers a full professionally organized conference experience with a great mix of informative workshops that help me run my business, excellent opportunities to network with companies like mine in addition to large enterprises, and top-notch entertainment and stimulating key-notes. In my prior life at IBM I have been to hundreds of conferences, and end-to-end, the NGLCC conference is one of the best.
A good strategy is to participate in the matchmaker sessions, visit all the corporate booths during the business expo time, and volunteer to be a workshop presenter which gives even additional visibility.
Get on Stage
Rachel Brookhart @RachelBinLA
In the nonprofit industry, where budgets are small, it’s extra important to make sure you get the most out of conferences. The strategy will shift depending on the organization’s goals and the goals of the individual attending the conference.
For senior leaders, conferences are a place to see and be seen. They should choose conferences based on whether the people they need to get in front of will be there or not. And of course, if they have the opportunity to present, that can only help.
For junior staffers, networking takes a backseat to learning, and they should therefore choose conferences that have quality, in-depth content on the subjects they need.
It’s also important to see what’s happening in your region. For example, in Southern California, the Center for Nonprofit Management hosts the region’s only annual conference specifically for nonprofit leaders. The 501(c)onference is the place to both meet with VIPs and learn best practices. If your region has a must attend event, it might be good to send at least one person from your organization; more if the event is high quality.
Hang Out in the Alley
Brian Penny @Versability
I attend a dozen or so trade shows, expos, and conferences every year in order to keep up with trends. These include E3, CES, Spark, Outdoor Retailer, CTIA Super Mobility Week, International Cannabis Business Conference, and more.
Meeting with media analysts like me is one of the best reasons to attend these conferences (outside of actual sales). When I have hands on access to your product, I’m much more likely to cover it then after a PR blast.
It doesn’t take a booth, or even a ticket. At every event I’ve attended, I was approached by a bootstrapped entrepreneur outside in the smoking area. I give them the same attention I do everyone else because I respect the risk they’re taking.
Create your Own
Zachary Weiner @EmergingInsider
The best events for a company to attend across any industry or region are always going to be the events they personally produce. Whether it’s a small meet-up group, an informational panel, a massive launch party or even a full conference. The greatest ROI will always be delivered when a small business can own the event, own the leads they take from it, own the branding at it and compel, captivate and attract the exact audiences they want. While there are literally thousands of fantastic external events in existence, a company that can leverage their own at any budget level, will create a much stronger yield.
Don’t Even Bother!
Angela Horne @MediaScriptllc
As a business owner, I have found that merely exhibiting, networking or speaking at a conference is not enough to show a decent return on your investment (ROI). Having said that, I do feel that business owners need to become a member of the organization putting on the conference (that they are planning to attend) and then be prepared to get involved.
For instance, I am a member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, which certifies women-owned businesses. This is an excellent organization as they have both regional and national conferences that the owner and/or her employees can attend. I have been a member for almost six years now and volunteer on several committees in our region. This has helped to raise my profile not only with fellow women-business owners but with the corporate sponsors within our area. Then three years ago I decided to get involved on the national level, which has helped further my client base.
So to sum this up, I would say for years I had invested a considerable amount of time and money attending conferences however I never saw substantial ROI until I became more active in the organizations.
So there you have it – convention tips from the pros.
Did we miss your favorite convention? Do you have any cool tips?
Let us know in the comments!