It’s easy to assume bigger is always better — especially when you’re a small business trying to grow. When it comes to choosing a conference to attend, though, it’s not size that matters as much as niche.
By choosing conferences that have the most industry-specific content and the greatest networking opportunities for your business — as well as making a deliberate effort to meet people before, during, and after the events — you can maximize the ROI of each conference you attend, even if it’s not a monster like TED.
Large vs. Niche Conferences
Huge conferences try to appeal to a diverse pool of potential attendees, casting very large nets and offering a wide range of topics. This is great for a conference trying to sell tickets, but not for small business owners in need of specific, applicable content.
Small business owners with limited budgets need content and opportunities that meet the exact needs of their businesses to make an event worthwhile. Many niche conferences offer great educational panels and workshops for a lower ticket price than some of the big-name conferences, and it’s often easier to connect afterward with speakers.
Another advantage niche conferences have over larger, broader conferences like TED is the type of people they attract. The attendees of smaller conferences tend to be CEOs, presidents, or business owners. Having a pool of decision-makers to mingle with makes niche events networking goldmines.
How to Capitalize on Your Conference
To ensure a conference experience is a valuable one, there are steps a business owner should take before, during, and after:
By doing your homework on each conference’s speaker lineup and event itinerary before you buy tickets, you can get a detailed view of the exact topics covered. Make sure the content, workshops, and speakers connect with the type of business you are and touch on the issues that are important to you.
- Investigate the reputation of the organization hosting the conference. A lot of conferences look and sound attractive, but they turn out to be big pitchfests. Make sure the conference you’re attending is committed to providing you with useful material — not just providing its speakers an opportunity to sell their products and services.
- Seek out social proof by talking to those who attended the year before. If the conference is new, research the speakers to make sure they’re knowledgeable.
With the proper approach, each session can provide value. Just keep asking one question: How does this apply to me/my business?
- Listen to the questions others ask. There might be a way to apply the answers given to your own business. Don’t hesitate to connect with someone who asked an interesting question later on, either; sometimes, the most valuable insights emerge from discussions sparked in panels.
- Take notes in the moment. I keep a single sheet of paper in the front of my notebook to log my “biggest takeaways.” These are the ideas I want to tackle right away once I get home, but I might lose track of them if I don’t write them down on the spot.
- Stay socially active. It’s common for conferences to boast having the coolest parties and networking opportunities, but no amount of “cool” can automate the networking process. You still have to put yourself out there to make connections.
The day you get back is crucial. While it’s tempting to dive right in to answering your backlog of emails, right after the conference is when you’re the most motivated to take action on anything you picked up.
- Pull out your “biggest takeaways,” and use them to lead a brainstorming session with your team. Decide which ideas are the best for your business, as well as how you’ll implement them.
- If you don’t have a team, take out your calendar and designate a time to focus on each idea on your “biggest takeaways” list. This can keep you from losing the momentum and motivation you gained from the conference.
Although big-name conferences may hold a lot of appeal, it’s important to remember that great things come in small packages when you’re deciding where to put your hard-earned money. Look for niche events where you can really connect — you’ll get more than you ever bargained for.
Lena Requist established herself as a powerful force in business before joining ONTRAPORT as COO in 2009. The organization’s own event, Ontrapalooza, is later this fall, Lena has a passion for helping female entrepreneurs and is the founder of a virtual Women in Business group, where empowered women can share their strengths, struggles, and triumphs with each other. Connect with Lena on Google+ or Twitter.