Event Quality vs Attendees Quantity: How to find a balance
Events and business travels are fun, aren’t they? Your family and colleagues say: “You are traveling again! Lucky you! Steak dinners, cocktail receptions, business class upgrades and frequent flier miles.” So many people (who do not travel as part of their jobs) think that events and business travel is luxurious. Glamorous. I could write a WHOLE post on why this isn’t true (the inside of a Marriott ballroom is the same whether you are in Paris or Detroit or Dubai – am I right?) but for today, let’s focus on what really matters: connections.
We go to events and shows to make personal connections with our professional world, and that is where the magic happens. Cold calling can only do so much. But there is something about a handshake, a shared story, and looking another person in the eye that just puts a relationship in another category.
I just returned from two events (CES 2018 in Las Vegas and IoT Evolution Expo in Orlando) and I have one more trip before January is over. When looking at where I spend Mainspire’s event travel budget for the year, I break it down into two categories: quality of content (learning) and quality of connections.
Notice I did not say quantity.
Sure, it’s nice if a program touts X thousands attendees or Y conference sessions with Z hundred speakers. But before you plunk down thousands of dollars of your company’s event budget on the show (regardless of level of participation: speaking, exhibiting, sponsoring, attending, etc.) I encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself what your goal is at this particular event.
Are you there to learn? Then really audit the conference program: look at the sessions, descriptions and quality of the speakers to determine if you will take away more in these sessions then you would sitting in several free webinars which are readily available. IoT Evolution for me personally was all about education. If business comes from it organically, I’ll be thrilled. But honestly, my clients rely on me to be an expert. How can I be an expert if I am not knowledgeable and staying on top of the latest developments? CES did not give me this in the IoT space – at all.
Are you there to network? Make sure the companies attending (and the level of the attendees – e.g. C-level or technical or marketing) is going to also be there. There’s nothing worse than wanting to have a technical conversation and only having a glorified intern staffing the booth that says “I’ll take your card and have someone get back to you.” Missed opportunity. Take advantage of every networking event offered: go to the cocktail reception (bonus, buy extra drink tickets and give them to people you are meeting), leave the room during the coffee break and engage in “water cooler” talk, and try to actually go out for dinner with people you don’t know. Don’t make it all about work either. Ask people what they are doing while in town, about their families, about hobbies and vacations and pets and personal stuff. Get to know them! A little real conversation goes a long way in remembering people. If everyone at the show is talking about IoT and you talked for 5 minutes about how you both enjoyed fishing in Alaska, which conversation do you think they’ll remember?
Are you there to sell? If you have a booth or are walking the floor to promote yourself (a sensitive space itself – again, topic for another post) is your audience appropriate? Do you know who they are and will they be there? My analogy I use with my clients to really understand the importance of target audience is that I would rather know you are selling to bowling alleys in Iowa than Millennials in the United States. See how clear that audience (and consequently messaging) becomes? If you have a booth, attractive signage and a short clear message will help keep tire kickers and swag grabbers at bay and get the potential customers to you.
In the end, if you choose a big event with 200,000 attendees, the traffic will be there but you’ll struggle for quality. I left CES with about 25 (maybe 50 if I stretch it) quality contacts. If you chose an event with 1,000 attendees, but they are all perfect, you’ll leave with nearly 1,000 business cards and a network of amazing new connections who really spent the time, got to know you, and you connected on both a personal and professional level. Plus, the educational sessions at the small events, such as IoT Evolution Expo, spoke to me directly and I am leaving 100x smarter than I arrived. Well worth my investment, every penny. But hey, it’s just my opinion.
I work with companies every day that struggle to make decisions on which events to attend, sponsor, exhibit, etc. Let me know if you would like help navigating how to best allocate your budget. In the end, sometimes spending a little will save you a lot. Or, in the case of a conversation I had with a colleague, a $300 one-day event investment netted her a $150,000 a year contract. Not a bad ROI if you ask me.