How (and Why) You Should Attend a Marketing Conference with Your Team: Recap of INBOUND 2019
Taking your team to a marketing conference?
Maybe it’s one employee; maybe it’s your whole marketing staff. Either way, you aren’t going alone, and that changes the game.
While I’ve advocated for the importance of attending a professional conference every year, most of the conferences I’ve attended have been solo. So when I attended INBOUND, HubSpot’s huge digital marketing conference in Boston, with three of my 9 Clouds colleagues, my experience was definitely different — for the better!
Here are some tips on why and how to tackle a marketing conference with your team (plus some helpful #INBOUND19 takeaways for all you HubSpotters out there!).
Why Invest in a Marketing Conference?
Hey, we know: marketing conferences are expensive.
Not only do you have to pay for the passes themselves, you may also have to pay for all the associated costs of food, travel, and lodging if the conference is in-person . . . plus the opportunity cost of your employees’ time away from the office.
Is it really worth it for you to send your marketing team to a conference?
Event marketing is proven to offer a solid return on investment (ROI) for both B2B and B2C marketing agencies. Check out these 90 event marketing stats from Splash for proof.
But the real value of attending a conference with your team can’t be measured in a statistic. You’ll see the value in how it permeates your entire team culture, as your staff not only bonds during the event, but also brings fresh ideas to the meeting room table for weeks, months, and years to come.
The fact that some or all of your staff has attended the same conference means that you share a common experience — maybe even a common language, if a certain speaker resonated with your team. Don’t underestimate the impact of shared experience on company culture.
How to Choose the Right Conference for Your Team
So, ready to take your team to a marketing conference?
Not so fast!
First off, make sure you pick the right conference for your team. INBOUND is a massive event, with about a dozen session options for each time slot. It made sense for multiple 9 Clouds employees to attend since we were able to “divide and conquer” (see tip #1 below). Taking your staff to a conference with only one track that everyone attends probably isn’t the best use of your dollars. Here are three tips on finding the right conference.
Second, make sure you know what you’re really getting into. The first time 9 Clouds attended INBOUND, our CEO went by herself. Only after she’d scouted it out did she decide to bring others along in subsequent years. Not every conference provides the same amount of value, so carefully vet out any marketing conference before you fully commit.
I’d encourage people to send one person to a conference first to determine if it’s valuable to return and potentially bring more people.– Sarah Carnes, 9 Clouds CEO
Finally, make sure you develop a plan before letting your team loose at the event. That’s what we did before INBOUND 2019, and our preparation paid off.
3 Tips for Attending a Marketing Conference with Your Team
Now that you’ve picked the right conference for your team (and the right employees to take along), how should you approach the actual event?
Here are three tips that will make attending a marketing conference with your team a whole lot easier (and more fun).
1. Divide and Conquer Breakout Sessions
The INBOUND conference agenda is absolutely packed with sessions. (With more than 24,000 attendees in 2019 alone, it had better be!)
As soon as the schedule was announced, our CEO (and seasoned INBOUND veteran) Sarah Carnes encouraged those of us attending the conference with her to:
- Sift through the agenda.
- Reserve the sessions we wanted to attend.
- Mark our choices in a shared spreadsheet.
This shared spreadsheet helped us make the most of the event by avoiding session overlap. If I knew my fellow content strategist Jacquelyn Jacobsma was going to a talk on increasing organic search traffic, I could choose one on using design tools in content marketing, and we could trade notes later.
Don’t feel bad if there’s some overlap among your team. Jacquelyn attended a session on improving blog conversion rates that she found so valuable, she encouraged me to attend the encore session the next day. Afterward, we were able to compare our findings — and thus strengthen the content recommendations we offered later.
Bonus tip: Try to attend any keynote sessions together. Since you’ll likely all be there anyway, it’s a good bonding experience, and it gives you more to talk about during happy hour.
2. Share In-the-Moment Insights
When my colleagues and I met up during keynotes or lunch, the first question we asked was how everyone’s previous sessions had been. Good? Bad? Somewhere in between?
While it’s impossible to regurgitate everything you’ve just learned — and, chances are, you need time to process it all — it’s helpful to share some learnings while they’re top of mind.
Why? For one thing, you’re more likely to remember something if you’ve said it out loud, as this study shows.
For another, exchanging takeaways helps spark even more ideas among your team. When our sales manager Matthew Stoffel was telling me about a sales session he attended, I was able to connect a similar session I’d attended on using sales strategies in marketing. Since then, we’ve had increasingly more conversations about how to better align sales and marketing, both for 9 Clouds and for our clients.
So encourage your team to actively engage in the conference by asking questions about what they’ve learned — and by openly sharing the things you’ve learned, too. Lead by example!
Bonus tip: Don’t try to squeeze an insight out of each session. You won’t have an epiphany every time — and hopefully, you already know some of the stuff these guys are talking about. That’s a good thing!
3. Schedule a Post-Conference Meeting
You’re back from the marketing conference. Hopefully, you’ve learned a lot, made some new business connections, and had a whole bunch of fun. (Remember, team bonding is key to this experience!)
So — what do you have to show for it?
Now it’s time to yank up your sleeves, get back to work, and prove that this conference thing was worth it, after all. As the marketing manager of your business, you’re probably the person most jazzed to start implementing your new conference findings. Don’t lose the momentum!
When my team returned from INBOUND 2019, we held a meeting with only those who attended the conference to recap our notes and discuss how we wanted to disseminate the information to the rest of the company.
After we each reviewed our individual notes, we organized them according to various categories, like “Sales,” “Project Management,” and “Internal Marketing.”
When we met in person, we started a new shared document. We divided the action items into two buckets:
- Quick wins: What small tasks can we accomplish easily in the next few days or weeks?
- Long-term goals: What big ideas do we want to try in the next few months or years?
With such an organized approach, our team was able to take those action items and claim ownership over the ones that fit in our individual specialties.
All this may sound like a lot of extra work, but think of how much time and money you’re already investing into this marketing conference. You want to actually use the information you’ve learned, don’t you?
Bonus tip: Don’t schedule this meeting for the day you return to work. Not only will you have a million emails to check, you also want to give your team time to breathe. You may even have some conversations with employees who didn’t attend the conference that could prompt new ideas!
Keep Building the Momentum!
If you’ve decided to take your marketing team to a conference, we applaud you. After INBOUND 2019, I can personally attest to the value (and fun!) involved in sharing the experience with your colleagues.
We’re passionate about this kind of professional development — it’s something we’ve infused into our workplace culture and our company manifesto. We love teaching and working with others who share our values of education, transparency, and community.
If you’ve been looking for a partner to take your marketing to the next level — or just some fellow marketers to meet at your next conference — we’d love to talk shop. You can meet our team or learn more about what it’s like to work with us if you’re curious.