Even if your conference dollars were infinite, your time is not. You have to make some hard decisions about which conferences to attend as opposed to the ones you can manage without.
It is not a matter of which are the most fun, or the ones where most of your friends will be, or even the ones most personally interesting to you. It is about the conferences that give you the biggest return on your investment.
Which conferences give you the most useful information? Which conferences make you better at your job? Which conferences give your company the most actionable advantage? Here are some other ways to know which conferences to attend:
Conferences that Keep You Engaged
Remember that conference you went to last year and slept through most of the sessions? Right. Don’t go back to that one. It doesn’t matter how ‘important’ it is. It didn’t work for you.
Some conferences feature forgettable, somnolent speeches that fill time but do little else. Others have so much going on, you feel lost all the time without a real sense of where you are supposed to be or to what you should be paying attention.
The first type of conference can be easily solved by not attending. The second type could benefit from a good conference app with the latest interactive and real-time features.
- Activity feeds that allow for status updates
- Gamification with points, badges, and leaderboards
- Live polling and Q&A which encourages participation, and uncovers participant questions.
This is the type of app that ensures the participants aren’t snoring in the front row and playing Angry Birds in the back. Figure out which conferences yield the highest engagement. And go to those.
SXSW has both its fans and detractors. But no one ever accuses it of being uninteresting. You are going to get the full measure of whatever it has to offer. That alone makes it worth being on the list.
Conferences That Generate Big Ideas
Even the most clever among us sometimes have trouble coming up with new ideas. Once a venture is self-sustaining, it is time to do something else. That something else is sometimes difficult to figure out.
A good conference is just the thing. And no conference is a better big idea generator than TED. Sure, you can go to the site or fire up the app and hear talks like, Walk the earth… my 17 year vow of silence and By the people: How to upgrade democracy for the internet age. But it is not even close to the same as being there.
It is the difference between watching an inspiring movie in a crowded theater and watching alone on your smartphone. The first makes you want to be a better person. The second fills time while you are busy doing something else. The content is the same. But the impact is not.
Not everyone who wants to go to TED will get a chance to go in their lifetime. If you ever get that chance, you won’t regret it.
Conferences that Help You Compete
CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show. It has been around for a while. And there is no sign of it stopping anytime soon. While it has consumer in the name, it is strictly for industry insiders. Even if you are not in the consumer electronics business, you should find an excuse to go.
In some ways, everyone is in the consumer electronics business. Even Microsoft realized a few years ago that bring your own device (BYOD) was here to stay. By keeping up with the future of consumer electronics, you will be getting a jump on what your employees will be using, and getting a feel for how it will impact them, along with your business.
It would have been nice to see the iPhone coming two years ahead of time. But that was simply not possible. CES gives you a peek, not so much into products, as to trends. Those trends will likely impact your business. Consider CES an early warning alert. Miss it at your peril.
SXSW, TED, and CES are not the only conferences worth going to. You may not even get to go to them all. But if you missed all three, you’ve lost a year as an entrepreneur.