3 Reasons to Attend a Conference Every Year
When was the last time you attended a conference?
If you can’t remember — or if you never have — it’s time to pull out your planner.
In the past few weeks, I’ve attended not one, but two conferences for 9 Clouds: Digital Summit in Seattle and Now What? here in Sioux Falls. On the one hand, I’m a little exhausted. On the other, I’m incredibly refreshed.
While I’m riding this high, let me tell you why professional conferences (still) matter — and how to find the right one for you.
Why Conferences Aren’t Dead
Conferences have gotten a bad rap lately.
Now that we’ve got this handy little thing called the Internet, where you can learn anything at the click of a cursor (or the utterance of an “Alexa”), it’s easy to dismiss in-person events like conferences as unnecessary or expensive.
But — get this — there are things the Internet can’t teach you.
Like how it feels to step foot in a new city, creative inspiration dripping from every silver skyscraper. Or what it’s like to surround yourself with hundreds of other professionals in your industry, all of whom are eager to share — and soak in — new knowledge.
Conferences may be an investment, both in time and money, but let me tell you, they’re still worth it. (The right ones, anyway. I’ll get to that later.)
3 Reasons to Attend a Conference Every Year
At 9 Clouds, each team member gets to attend at least one conference per year (with the approval of our CEO). It’s part of our employee benefits.
I’ve been with 9 Clouds for more than three years now, and let me tell you, that annual conference is like a glittering beacon of hope at the end of a dark, dark tunnel.
But really, we all need to be rejuvenated in our jobs once in a while. Attending an annual conference (especially one in a different city) is like a double espresso at 3 p.m. — a tasty jolt of energy to get you through the rest of the day.
Here are my three main reasons to attend a professional conference at least once a year.
1. You’ll Learn Stuff
Duh. (Why else would your boss let you go?)
But while you’ll surely come away with pages of helpful tidbits for your company, conferences offer more than just tactical knowledge.
Every year, my biggest conference takeaway isn’t something I can stick in a bulleted list or even summarize very well. It’s more of a general impression — a motivation to view my job in a new light.
To craft stories, not stats. To care more about my clients and the customers I’m trying to reach. To view them all as real people, with real problems and real desires.
You can’t learn that from a blog post.
2. You’ll Have Fun
One of the main factors I consider when researching conferences is how fun the event looks. If the website is boring — even if it’s hosted by a reputable company — I move on.
Did I just type that out loud?
No, seriously. If your conference isn’t enjoyable, you’re at the wrong one.
I’m not just saying that because I appreciate an open bar, either. Studies show that when learning is fun, you actually learn more.
That’s why picking the right event is so critical to your conference success. (Again, more on that later.)
3. You’ll come back annoyingly inspired.
Since I’ve returned from those conferences I mentioned, I haven’t been able to shut up about the takeaways I learned. I’m pretty sure my coworkers have all been rolling their eyes behind my back.
But I don’t care! Passion is contagious, and I can’t keep mine in.
Hopefully, the ideas I’m sharing are helpful for my team. I, for one, love hearing about my colleagues’ conference experiences. Their stories always motivate me to try new things myself.
When one of us gets inspired, we all do.
How to Find the Right Conference for You
Notice that in that list, I didn’t mention things like tactics, vendors, or networking.
Sure, you’ll get to experience all those things at a conference. But that’s just it — you’ll experience them at every conference.
So when you’re researching conferences, don’t worry about the sponsors or other attendees (unless you have a very specific networking need).
Here are three things you should consider when choosing a conference.
1. Who’s Putting It On
One of the main reasons I chose to attend Marketing United in 2017 was because of the conference host, Emma, an email marketing platform whose content I’d been following for some time.
Since I was already a fan of Emma, I knew the company would put on a fantastic event. The conference website also promised lots of inspiring sessions, cool swag, and fun after-parties — the perfect bait for a millennial like me.
And it worked! Since I knew what to expect, Emma’s conference did not disappoint. Marketing United had me hook, line, and sinker.
Before you settle on a conference, become familiar with the business associated with it. The conference host tells you a lot about the type of event you’ll get.
Make sure to thoroughly review both the specific conference website and the company’s entire online presence to get a good feel for the content — and vibe — the business is going for.
If you don’t love it, move on.
2. Where It’s At
Don’t underestimate the geographical location of the event.
Yes, you’ll be inside the conference hall all day, but what happens after 5 p.m.?
Unless you have other pressing work to attend to — and hopefully you don’t, because you should be devoting the bulk of your attention to the conference — you’re going to have some free time before and after the event. So enjoy it!
If you can, try to pick a conference in a place you’ve never been, or at least one you already know you love.
You’ll be much more likely to drink in the conference if you’re also drinking in the city. (That’s the metaphorical “drinking in,” mind you . . . but I suppose the literal one works, too.)
3. What the Agenda Looks Like
If you’re hoping to hone a specific skill set, the conference agenda will be the most important factor in making your decision.
The agenda is where you’ll find the descriptions, durations, and speakers of each session.
It’s obvious why the descriptions and speakers (especially the keynote ones!) are important — but pay attention to how long each session lasts, too.
Digital Summit, for example, was mostly comprised of 30-minute sessions, while Now What? offered four 3.5-hour-long workshops over two days. Both formats were worthwhile, but they resulted in entirely different experiences.
Keep Tabs on Our Conference Adventures
Whenever a 9 Clouds employee attends a conference, we try to disseminate the info both to our team and to our community.
We do this in the form of conference recap blog posts (like this one on Facebook’s 2018 Auto Retail Summit, which Matt attended in Austin) — but we try to infuse what we’ve learned in all our content.