Score! It’s Conference Season.

It’s May. Time for baseball, hockey (still), spring allergies, college graduations…and conferences and tradeshows! May and June, along with September and October in the fall, are peak months for conferences. The calendar is jam-packed with events across many industries, including financial services. With likely hundreds of options for your industry, how do you know which ones to target? Which ones will get the best bang for your buck?

Maybe you are planning your company’s conferences and events strategy. Perhaps you are looking to take part as an attendee. Either way, plan ahead as much as possible to get the most our of your investment. Start by identifying your objectives. What are you trying to achieve at a conference(s)? What types of people do you want to connect with? How much is this a priority over other possible activities? Then research your options. This could take quite a bit of time, depending on your industry and what resources are available to help you. For example, there are numerous websites that aggregate various conferences. (However, I have yet to find any that are comprehensive and unbiased, so please add a comment below if you have found some good ones for your industry.)

Weigh Your Options

Narrow down the options based on which ones might support your objectives. Next, consider “word of mouth.” If you don’t know somebody else who has attended in the past that you can call up, then turn to social media. Look into articles and social media posts about conferences, including before, during and after. See if an event-specific hashtag was in use on Twitter. (Most conferences these days do.) Reading comments from attendees can often give a good sense of what people thought about the sessions. Peruse some snapshots to get a true perspective of the event. You might even be able to gauge if there was a good level of energy from the attendees.

A Conferences Scorecard

Now, rank the conferences quantitatively to determine your participation. Try this simple scorecard, adding in any other factors that are important for you. Rank each event from 1-10 (10 highest), and then compare total points:

POINTS (1-10)
Looking at the breakdown of attendees by role or type of company, will my target audience be present? What proportion of attendees are decision-makers or decision-influencers for my products/services?
How relevant is the content of the conference to my customers’ (or my own) needs and challenges?
Will my key competitors be speaking, sponsoring or exhibiting?
Are there many opportunities to network over meals, coffee breaks or other activities? Or is the agenda very dense, leaving little time for personal interactions?
If you are considering exhibiting, make sure you will get good foot traffic. Will there be plenty of time for attendees to visit the exhibits? Where is the exhibit area in relation to the other conference spaces?
Do members of the media attend?
Is there a possibility of being a speaker or panelist?
What are the benefits of sponsoring/exhibiting/attending? Consider brand exposure and if you will receive a detailed attendee list with contact info. (Not all conferences provide this, but it is extremely valuable for further marketing, lead generation and networking.)
How does the cost of this conference compare to other events and other potential marketing investments I could be making?
Will this generate leads or other measurable return on my investment?
Add any other key criteria here for your objectives.

If you are considering a conference further, think about just attending it to check it out first. Seeing it first-hand can help you determine if it’s a good fit for your business and worth future investment. If you are ready to dive in as an exhibitor, read more from Paragon on how to maximize your presence.

The Biggest Points of All: Face-to-Face Networking

Like everything else in business, conferences are constantly changing. They develop new formats, content and technologies. The organizers must promise a unique and effective experience, one that is worth your time away from the office and your budget dollars. Otherwise, why would anyone come at all, much less find value in coming back year after year? But one thing remains constant: you can’t beat face-to-face interactions. The networking and conversations are by far the most valuable part. You can get all the training you want via other means. But business takes place when humans connect. Conferences are terrific for bringing a lot of people together for you to meet and converse with in a short amount of time, all in one place. Take advantage!

Share your advice

What criteria do you use to evaluate conferences? Again, let us hear of useful websites that list your industry’s conferences in one place.

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