Finding the Right Industry Conferences and Events to Participate in
In an age where seemingly everything has gone digital, there is still an innate charm—and incredible value—in attending industry events and conferences.
Don’t just take my word for it—Bizzabo’s 2019 Event Marketing Report found that 84% of company VPs and C-Suite execs believe in-person events are a critical component of their company’s success. Further, 63% of those respondents planned to grow their total event budgets by an average of 22% in the next year.
An increase in budgets does not mean that wallets are any easier to open, though, and leadership teams demand a clear and enticing ROI for any event activities.
This means that marketers need to be ever-diligent in selecting only the best events for their company’s needs. We’ve put together a framework and process you can follow to evaluate your conference participation opportunities and put your limited events budget toward the events with the most upside for your marketing efforts.
Determining Your Conference Approach
Depending on the extent of your company’s previous conference involvement, you may have an inbox overloaded with event opportunities, or you’re starting from scratch. Either way, your approach should include a mix of exploring inbound opportunities, plus seeking out new options.
There are many ways for you to get involved at an industry conference, the most common of which are:
- Sponsoring: Event organizers are constantly looking for companies to financially sponsor their events in exchange for an enhanced or exclusive presence at the event. These often come with a hefty price tag, but the benefits—including getting your logo and spokesperson in front of your ideal customer audience— could justify the costs.
- Speaking: Often the most coveted opportunities, speaking slots are highly competitive (unless you have the money to sponsor). Don’t let that discourage you, though! There are many opportunities, including solo presentations, co-presented client/customer case studies, fireside chats, panel discussions, or workshops. And as long as you meet the conference’s speaker submission deadlines, your hat will be in the ring.
- Exhibiting: Often tied to a sponsorship, exhibiting at a conference gets your company a presence on the show floor to engage with the attendees. While this has the most opportunity for direct lead generation, many savvy marketers are shifting the focus of their booths away from high-pressure sales tactics and toward creating a branded experience.
- Attending: Simply attending a conference is often the most cost-efficient route, and still allows for access to most (if not all) of the main programming. If it’s an industry event, you can still work on influencer and media relationship building. Or, if it’s a consumer event, you can create content that reflects what you learned at the conference.
Each option has its own pros and cons, but whichever route you choose, you need to have clearly defined goals. Our #ContentChat community shared their top KPIs for events in our conversation on How to Make That Industry Conference Worth Your Marketing Budget Dollars—check out that recap to see how your peers define event success.
Finding Conferences to Attend
With your preferred involvement and overarching goals in mind, you can then start looking for opportunities. Most conference speaking slots fill at least three months before the event—a year in advance for large, international conferences—so all proactive research should be for a minimum of one quarter out for exhibiting, and 12-15 months for speaking opportunities.
Here are the best ways to find new conferences to attend:
- Keep your friends close: Ask your colleagues for their recommendations, both in person and on social media
- Keep your competitors closer: Research your competitors to see where they have been speaking and exhibiting
- Turn to the news: Identify the publications your ideal customer regularly reads and check to see if they host conferences (Forbes, TechCrunch, and Business Insider are just a few with excellent, consistent programming)
- Search it: Find outlets and sites like Techmeme Events or Industry Dive’s publications for more industry-relevant opportunities
Assessing Conference Opportunities
Once you start finding events, things can quickly get jumbled. We recommend creating a spreadsheet (you can even use ours if you’d like!) with the key details for each opportunity for you to decide whether or not to attend.
Here are a few areas you should consider:
- Cost: This is one of the biggest factors, so ensure you understand all of the costs associated with the conference opportunity.
- Date and location: Research where a conference is being held, as well as the timeline so you can budget for travel, or align the activity with pre-scheduled trips for your team.
- Attendees: Research the past attendee counts (often available on the conference site or in news articles about the event), as well as the job title/role of the attendees. This will help you determine if you’re reaching your key audiences, and the right spokesperson(s) for the event. Remember that the quality of attendees is more important than the quantity of attendees—some of the best business opportunities can come from events of only 100 people.
- Conference tracks: The conference site will often list speaking tracks or topics to be explored. Use these as guardrails for the types of speaking opportunities you propose.
- Media attendance: Beyond industry professionals, journalists are also attending events, presenting an opportunity for you to be seen on stage (if you’re presenting), or for your representatives to network with the journalists during the show. Search conference hashtags on social media and look for past news coverage on the event to see if there is a media presence.
- Past speakers: See who presented at the event in previous years, with a particular focus on their job title, company, and their talking track. This can ensure you propose the right representative from your company to attend.
Once you have all of the potential events in your tracker, you can then more easily weigh your options to identify a select few events to pursue. Some teams use a scoring system to stay objective when assessing events. To do so, assign a numerical score to the areas listed above (any scale can work, we recommend one through five), and add them up to get a total event score.
However you decide to stay organized, keep your company goals in mind when making choices, and start small if you are unsure of the right path to take.
Event Best Practices
With your event strategy in place, your team is set to start lining up opportunities! If you are aiming for a speaking slot, stay patient as you may receive a few declines before your first congratulations.
Whether you’re speaking, exhibiting, or attending, your first few conferences can be dizzying if you don’t know what to expect. Read our #ContentChat recap on How to Get the Most Out of Attending an Industry Conference to walk in like a pro, or check out some of the highlights—including a number of other great industry conference tips—below:
A6: The biggest mistakes I’ve seen with trade show participation and sponsorship is going in with the wrong goals (like direct sales), bad KPIs (number of badge scans), or without any goals at all. You don’t build relationships that lead to sales without a plan! #ContentChat https://t.co/mr8bJz9kL2
— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) August 12, 2019
A4: Pre-event promotion is crucial. Outreach to past attendees or those you expect. I like to do press, direct email, social media, and direct mail. (Yes, snail mail.) Drive them to specific landing pages for the event. #contentchat
— John Cloonan (@johncloonan) August 12, 2019
A4 You really have to look at your convention booth experience as its own experience, from what you’re going to have people do there to how they’re going to find out about it. Be mindful of your brand, reinforce it, don’t diminish it in the process. #ContentChat
— Derek Pillie (@derekpillie) August 12, 2019
A3: One thing I find that helps vendors stand out at trade shows/conferences is when they have engaging folks staffing the booth. Friendly, welcoming. Too many times the staff seems actively disengaged. 🙁 #contentchat
— Michelle Garrett (@PRisUs) August 12, 2019
Another way to cut expenses is to volunteer. Some conferences accept volunteers and it can cover some of your costs to attend. #contentchat
— Michelle Garrett (@PRisUs) August 19, 2019
A4] While I appreciate the ability to be connected 24/7 but I disagree that you need to carry your work with at a conference.
When you attend a conference, you need concentration & energy. Multi-tasking doesn’t work. (It’s not me–its research!] #contentchat
— HeidiCohen #CMWorld 2019 Speaker (@heidicohen) August 19, 2019
A5. Write down what you got out of each presentation. If you can’t think of anything, think of what you could expand upon and make better. Always think about how you can apply what’s being presented to you marketing or content strategy. Even small wins. #ContentChat
— Patrick Delehanty (@MDigitalPatrick) August 19, 2019
A6: Reach out to peeps you want to meet before the conference starts, add them to lists, follow them and engage with them before the conference and then make a point to meet with them while there. #ContentChat
— Bernie Fussenegger #Digital360Chat (@B2the7) August 19, 2019
A7. Having props that prompt interest and interaction can also be a fun way to meet people. Remember when @crestodina had his #CMWorld yearbook that he had people sign? (That’s how I met him.) #ContentChat https://t.co/gz7lPWmqim
— Carmen Hill (@carmenhill) August 19, 2019