Why Business Conferences are Overrated (and what to do instead)
I have a confession. I’m not a big fan of business conferences, at least not for most people. I think most of them are overrated and often a waste of time and money.
I know, I speak at a lot of business conferences. They’re not all bad, and some people get great value from them. But for most people, business conferences are an overrated misuse of significant time and money.
Going to business conferences costs a lot of time and money.
Going to a business conference isn’t cheap. Tickets run from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Plane tickets and hotels cost hundreds of dollars more—each—at least. That adds up fast.
Millionaire Justin Krane says for an expense like that; you should expect an ROI in a month or two, not just to network for networking’s sake.
In addition to the money, the conferences last anywhere from a day to a week, not including travel time. With travel time, you’re away from your business, family, and other responsibilities for at least a few days.
That’s a large investment that most people don’t see a return on. Here’s why.
Business conferences almost never deliver specifically curated, actionable content.
Most people don’t go to business conferences for intellectual stimulation. They go for content they can put into action to grow their businesses.
That’s because the nature of conferences makes delivering useful content almost impossible. I know this from experience. I speak at a lot of business conferences and, although we all want to present content that everyone in the room can immediately implement to grow their businesses, we simply can’t, for two main reasons.
- The audience is too broad.
First, even at industry or niche specific conferences, the audience is often broad in terms of their business needs. The rooms are full of freelancers, business owners, large-corporation representatives, small-company representatives, service providers, and everything in between. This forces the speakers to give general overviews instead of specific, actionable strategy. If a speaker gets too detailed, he or she risks losing a large part of the room. Unfortunately, this leaves you, the audience member, to have to figure out how to use the speaker’s broad material for your particular situation.
Separating content into beginner, intermediate, and advanced barely helps, too, because those terms are so subjective that you still end up with a cross section of experience levels in any room. This means you can’t be very advanced even in an advanced track.
- There’s a lot of WOW not a lot of HOW.
Second, speakers only have 45 minutes on stage. Although it might seem like a lot of time, 45 minutes isn’t very much time at all. To fit actionable, tactical strategy in a 45-minute talk, the topic would need to be pretty narrow.
Thus, to provide value to as many people as possible, speakers need to focus more on tools and conceptual takeaways for the audience to connect to their needs, instead of detailed processes and strategies that are ready to be implemented as is.
Speakers are left giving a lot of wow, but very little how. When the audience returns home, they have so much catching up to do that they never make the necessary connections to implement the information they learned to their business.
The millionaires and billionaires I talk with know just one great idea can more than pay for their investment of time and money in the conference. Unfortunately, most of the time, they leave without even that one idea because the speakers’ hands are tied in order to relate generally to as many audience members as possible.
On top of that, even if you can leave with one idea, I don’t like the idea of sitting through hours of irrelevant content to find it. That’s not a very effective use of your time. I’d much rather scan the content lineup and invest my time listening to a specific podcast on the topics that interest me or reaching out to an expert to walk me through what I need to do for my business.
Networking at business conferences is hit or miss if you do it wrong (and most do).
My favorite thing about business conferences is the networking. In fact, I rarely sit in on sessions and instead spend my time making as many connections as I can, having as many strategic lunches and coffees as I can, and laying the groundwork for developing as many deep, meaningful, mutually-beneficial relationships as possible. Most millionaires and billionaires I speak with agree, too. Some people don’t even buy tickets for the conference. They just show up in the hallway or the neighborhood for the parties, dinners, and connections. (Some people call this “unconferencing.” I wouldn’t suggest doing this, but I do have a suggestion for a better way in the next section.)
If the conference is on a topic I’m interested in, I’ll buy tickets for my team to attend sessions and take notes. I’ll also ask other attendees what their favorite sessions were and just watch or listen to the recordings of those sessions once they’re available online. If the sessions aren’t recorded, that’s okay; the networking is where the value is for me, by far, so I’d rather focus on the networking and get the content from podcasts or books, or by hiring experts to help me.
But most people don’t get the same networking experience as I do.
One reason for that is they spend too much time in useless sessions. That limits networking time. I like to reverse that and use networking time to limit the number of sessions I watch, if any.
Another reason is people often don’t pick business conferences well, so they end up in a room of competitors who are all looking to meet the same people. They’re one of a thousand in that room. They’d get much greater value going to a conference that their clients and referral sources attend. In those rooms, they’re one in a thousand, and their attendance tells their clients that they invest in being up-to-date on the client’s industry.
Yet another reason most people don’t network well at conferences is, even if they make great connections, it’s hard to follow up on those connections. Rather, when they get home, they’ve done so little in their business over the previous several days that they need to pore over piles of work and hundreds of emails.
Within minutes, they’re back in their routine, exhausted, frustrated, and distracted. The pocket full of business cards they left the conference with ends up as a pile on their desk or in a drawer. After weeks or months go by, that pile of business cards ends up just a messy reminder of how much time and money they wasted at the conference.
Here are the five great business conferences to network with small-business owners, joint-venture partners, or influencers with big lists.
If you choose to go to conferences, I suggest you choose wisely, focus on networking, and set time aside to follow up right away. When you’re at the conference, make as many breakfast, lunch, coffee, or dinner meetings with as many key people as possible.
Or, better yet, organize a gathering where you are the main point of contact (check out the book Mastermind Dinners by millionaire guest Jayson Gaignard) and get everyone’s cell phone numbers to text them the location and time. It’s the best way to ask for a cell phone number without being weird! After the event, keep in touch with those people and nurture those relationships well.
These five conferences work hard to help you network by hiring matchmakers whose job it is to help people make mutually-beneficial connections, structuring time effectively for networking, and more. I asked millionaires what their favorite conferences are for marketing and these were the results (that being said, if you aren’t in an industry where online marketing is important, these probably aren’t right for you!)
- Social Media Marketing World. Typically held in March: Run by past guest Michael Stelzner. Over 5,000 entrepreneurs, marketers, and business people attend this conference. This is one conference that does both content and networking well. They have over 120 speakers and post replays of all their sessions, so you can watch all the replays you want. They’re also great with networking. This conference is set up to help you succeed.
- INBOUND. Typically held in September: Inbound is a huge marketing conference run by Hubspot in Boston, Massachusetts. Almost 20,000 people attend every year with over 250 content sessions, a bunch of networking events and opportunities, and even hands-on sessions.
- Podcast Movement. Podcasting can be one of the best ways to engage with your ideal customers; whether it’s as a guest sharing your expertise with other people’s audiences or as a host building a loyal following. At Podcast Movement, you’ll learn the latest production and marketing techniques and connect with thousands of podcasters. Best of all, Podcast Movement was founded and grown by podcasters. It’s been designed to be useful and practical. It’s a down–to-earth conference with lots of opportunities to network with hosts who have large audiences.
- FinCon. Typically held in September. FinCon is another great conference. It was founded by blogger, Phil Taylor, and is focused on helping people do business in the financial space of the digital world. This is another event with a strong focus on networking and helping connect attendees to people and brands they want to do business with. While it might not be in your niche, there are a lot of other types of businesses that attend because it’s such a great event.
- Mastermind Talks, by Jayson Gaignard (who wrote the book about mastermind dinners). Mastermind Talks is a high-end, application-based event. Everything in Mastermind Talks is selected carefully, down to the smallest details. It’s an intimate conference of about 150 people, and it’s not for the budget conscious. Tickets cost $7,000 alone. But from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave, you’re surrounded by best-in-class content, influencers, and networking opportunities. I include this at the end because the value is incredible. There’s no need for business cards because they give you a pre-printed Rolodex on Day 1. If you can fit this into your budget, I encourage you to consider applying. In fact, it will likely be a much better investment of your time and money to go to an event like Mastermind Talks than it would be to go to three less-valuable events with the same budget.
BONUS: Baby Bath Water. Typically held twice a year in March and September: Run by past guest (and mentor of mine) Michael Lovitch. This is an invite-only super-high-end event similar to Mastermind Talks, but it has a more holistic approach. It’s not just about business—it’s about legacy and having an amazing life experience at the same time. Many of my friends go to this event again and again with rave reviews.
Here’s one testimonial from Dave of the Bulletproof Coffee brand:
If your client avatar is a small-business owner, or if you’re looking to network with potential joint-venture partners or influencers with large lists, these conferences give you everything you need to connect with the right people.
Create Implementation Retreats.
As an alternative to a conference, I’ve started running what I call “Implementation Retreats” with my mastermind members here in Austin, TX.
They’re intimate, in-person meetings full of people who are dedicated to growing their businesses, similar to high-end conferences. At the same time, we bring in experts to give you advice for your specific business issues and set aside time for you to take action with the help and guidance of those experts, all while you’re at the event. You learn the concepts and strategies and then implement them on the spot.
These types of events generally come at a premium price point, but they deliver premium results.
And if you want to get started with implementation retreats right away, here’s what we do at my retreat, so you can get an idea of what you should look for in one. We spend three days working side by side with you, millionaires, and other business experts. You spend three days not only learning what to do and how to do it, but then doing it, right there. You get more done in three days than you did the previous three months, and when you go home, you’ll have so much done, you can take a day off!
After the three days are over, we don’t just leave you, either. We follow up with you! We help you determine key performance indicators and a plan for you to reach your specific goals moving forward.
Best of all, you get access to my network of contacts and those of the other people in the room to help you, too.
Although my next session is sold out, watch a video about it and get on the waitlist for the next one here.
Here is a photo from the last one we just ran!
Not all conferences are bad. You can grow your business through conferences by choosing wisely and focusing on networking well.
There are many great conferences, like the ones I shared with you in here for people looking to meet small-business owners, joint-venture partners, and influencers with large lists. If you focus on making connections and getting the bulk of your content from other places, you can grow your business well with conferences.
If content is your challenge, consider attending a curated implementation retreat instead of—or in addition to—a business conference, because they’ll help you get things done and meet other business owners and influencers. If you can’t find one you like, you can get on the waiting list for my next one right here.
Hi I’m Jaime. Each and every week I bring you the top business advice from the people who know best.Learn More