How to Decide on Attending a Conference

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You open your inbox and there it is. An email with details on an upcoming conference. Chock full of invigorating speakers, content you should know and a fun happy hour-esque event that will have live music – or something. Should you read on and learn more? And then the conference thoughts begin…

You know what I’m talking about. The rush of coordinating flights and hotels, connecting with colleagues and trying to figure out the best one to go for your/your company’s budget. If it’s during the summer or fall/winter, this is met with cramming in work travel before cramming in family holiday travel.

Double Yay!

So let’s dig in. The health innovation landscape has plenty to choose from so let’s try to reduce that state of frazzlement (yep, just made that up). We’re going to explore:

  • Expenses (self explanatory)
  • Your ROI with the event (what will you be doing to make it valuable?)
  • Alignment (does it fit with your goals, body of work aspirations?)

As I’ve travled around the country for most of my career, I’ve definitely picked up on a few things you should be asking yourself and considering. Now that conferences, events, meetups, mixers and summits are plentiful in our world of health & healthcare – this will become increasingly more important. You can’t do it all but you CAN be smart and strategic.

How Much Will It Cost?

Let’s go ahead and get this one out the way. Often times when it comes to meetings and conferences, the question of whether you can afford to attend comes up – fast. Whether you have direct access to shape a conference/travel budget or not, this is usually a make or break situation. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that might help clarify and prioritize:

Are there Volunteer Opportunities?

Back when I was still getting started in my career, I made it a point to get involved in conferences through volunteering. Sure, they may have had a student discount but hey, free is even better. More important though, was being given the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at how the event was put together. Also, being able to interact with speakers at the registration table and preparing them for stage time was invaluable to growing my network. Lastly, don’t think the volunteer status is just for “those young kids and interns” – whether you’re growing your influence or are already well established, having the service-minded role of a volunteer can go a long way in the eyes of your peers. Oh yeah and ask about these opportunities early – they often fill up fast.

Are there Media/Press Passes Available?

This is where having a platform and thought leadership influence can have a big impact. Often times, conferences want to make sure that people are talking about the content they’ve worked so hard to curate. This is where you come in. What platforms do you have a number of readers or a decent sized audience with? Is your Twitter account active? Do you write regularly on your blog and cover the topics that the conference has in common? This is why I talk about building a platform for yourself so much – there are a number of reasons it pays off and this is just one of them. However one of the things you want to get clarity on up front is what constitutes press for the event. Sometimes there is a difference between actual press (journalist) vs a media influencer (blogger, thought leader). Just like the volunteer, ask early.

Apart from the conference itself, what will travel cost?

Ah, travel and lodging. That sneaky little line item that sometimes can turn a smile upside down. Whether you get the actual ticket taken care of or not doesn’t really matter if you can’t get to the darn place. And the longer the conference is, the higher the bill for a hotel. Usually if you’re working at a company you might be privy to a discount at a particular chain. If you’re working as a solopreneur/consultant you may want to check out AirBnB. Lastly, if you’re staying far away from the event location, you’re going to have to consider how you’re getting back and forth. This is a big part of planning if you’re attending the SXSW Interactive event in Austin each year, for example. Having something like Uber in your pocket might be a good idea. If you have family or friends in the area, I would consider this a last resort – especially if it’s a really important event. You’ll want to stay focused. I have more to say about that as well – maybe I should write a separate post on it.

 

What Will You Be Doing There?

There are many reasons why you should make sure and get out onto the conference circuit. From learning, networking, being seen (yes, I said it) and of course getting up on stage to speak/present – all are good and often times necessary to become a better professional/innovator/thought leader.

Are You Speaking?

If so, congratulations! Public speaking is hands down one of the best ways for you to build your credibility and brand in the field. The visibility alone that comes from speaking at an event is worthwhile (even better when you get paid for it!). So this is obviously a no brainer. You signed on the dotted line to present something awesome and mind-blowing to the audience – let’s get it done.

Do You Want to Speak at this event?

So if this is a conference that you’d like to be able to get on stage and present material to the audience, it might be a smart idea to get immersed and get the view from the other side of the stage. Not only will you be able to see the lay of the land as far as mingling with attendees and experiencing what sessions/keynotes are like, you will have a chance to have direct contact with the conference organizers. Have a question to ask that will most likely get buried in their inbox? Now’s your chance.

Networking opportunities?

Attending a conference that you’ve carefully scoped out for relevance can be a great way for you to rub elbows with colleagues and influencers who you may only connect with online. Have an idea you want to run by someone? Want to spread the word on your new consultancy? Looking to get your foot in the door of a new job? Nothing beats those face to face interactions of a live event.


How Will It Align With Your Body of Work + Expertise?

This is more of a thoughtful question as it goes with the 30,000 ft view that I try to encourage clients to think about. At the end of the day, this is a large investment of your time, energy and (usually) money.

A few years ago I was taking a walk outside at a conference with one of my good friends Susannah Fox (formerly of the Pew Internet Project) and we were discussing the future of our respective work. I remember her telling me about how she was getting really intentional about the amount of conferences she was going to be attending and it really made an impact on me. Often times we get caught up in the hamster wheel of doing things just because or it has been a tradition. In this new world of work and ongoing busyness, it’s going to become increasingly important that you take a step back and think about where you invest your time. Especially as you continue to build your own brand and platform for great work.

As you think about how this event will build your brand, consider what the tangibles will be:

  • will you be writing about the event and takeaways on your blog? (highly recommended)
  • will you be tweeting about it during the day? (great way to build your Twitter following)
  • how many people will be connecting with afterwards that you can add to your Linkedin connections?
  • are you going to be interviewing speakers for your podcast or blog?

Hope this helps a bit with framing your thinking and provide relief as you make final plans for the crazy season. And before you know it, it’ll be time to battle masses of people around the country for space on the road for Thanksgiving (that didn’t help did it?).

What have your experiences been like in juggling all of this?

Comments

  1. Andre Blackman says:

    Thank YOU Susannah!

    Engaging in discussion prior to the event is also a brilliant way to get prepared/get the most out of a conference. Will be keeping an eye on the MedX panel!

  2. Thank you for the shout-out! That was a great walk & talk — and an example of an intangible result from the hassle of traveling to an event.

    For those seeking more input, I offer another post and thread, on my blog:
    http://susannahfox.com/2013/04/25/how-i-choose-which-conferences-to-attend/

    One result from that conversation is that I try to “flip” as many conferences as I can. That is, to prepare in advance and involve people in the conversation beforehand so I can take full advantage of the short time I’m actually on the ground.

    This season, I’m doing that most openly with a panel I’ll be on at Stanford Medicine X — see the #medxsm hashtag on Twitter and this Storify:
    https://storify.com/SusannahFox/communicating-the-experience-of-illness-in-the-dig

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