Professional conferences have become one of the most enjoyable ways to improve professional skills and build knowledge for work. Conferences can deliver fun, inspired speakers that leave us motivated and educated. We can also network with our peers and draw inspiration from shared experiences.
However, as the event space has become more and more competitive there has been entrants to this busy space who may cut corners and tweak the original business model to make it more financially lucrative resulting in a reduced emphasis on learning and education of the attendee.
For the event organisers, this has arguably left some locked in a race to the bottom as more event hosts put on cheaper and cheaper conferences that deliver sub-standard educational outcomes. Some are very good at masking their deficiencies, papering over the flaws effectively so that attendees come away feeling pumped and forgetting that they haven’t actually learned anything.
So, for the humble conference-goer, how can you spot the difference? Conferences, especially those that go for a couple of days, may cost in the hundreds of dollars. Before you hand over your hard-earned cash, how can you tell that conference is going to deliver on the glossy promises that the shiny dynamic website makes?
Here are a few things to look out for that could help you decide if the conference you’re going to is the right fit for you.
- The ticket price: Is it in the hundreds of dollars? A good knowledge-based conference is one where there are teachers on the stage with real-world experience who are willing to impart wisdom, tips and insights. They should not be selling from the stage. They should not be spruiking about their system, their program, or their success stories who have made megabucks because they followed the speaker’s steps. The information they share should stand alone as helpful, constructive and educational. Those speakers cost money, usually thousands of dollars each. This all adds to the cost of the ticket and while it may be counter-intuitive to look for expensive conference tickets, my strong advice would be to be very wary of cheap tickets. That is a clear sign you may be paying the bill in other ways. This is especially true if you can’t see a big naming rights sponsor plastered across all the marketing material. Those sponsors are angels that help offset the cost of your ticket and they should be celebrated and welcomed. Visit their stand at the conference, engage with their staff and take a good look at their products because they’ve done you the service of helping to minimise the cost of your high-quality conference tickets.
- The organiser: Is this someone who has a good reputation? Are they an established business with runs on the board in event organising? When you Google their name, click on the News tab and see if any major news outlets have written about them. Tip: Look for established news brands, and be aware of ‘fake’ news which is getting more and more sophisticated. I went to a conference recently where the top three Google results were from fake news sites, all were made-up websites created (I suspect) by the speaker to promote themselves.
- The speakers: Are they genuine educators or are they simply selling their own products? This is harder to judge. I recently went to a conference at a major venue, where two of the seven speakers were household names. One was Gary Vee, a huge international name and very well-known in the digital and social media marketing space. This gave the conference the air of respectability and integrity I was looking for. However, almost every other speaker, apart from Gary Vee, was hard-core selling from the stage, shouting about their “miracle selling system” that would turn everyday schmoes into gazillionaires, quickly and easily and with a minimum of effort. To me that conference was a dud. Gary Vee was outstanding, but in my view everyone else was not. Gary gave specific advice about how to improve the way we use social media to create an audience and how to turn customers into raving fans. His insights were useful to me and I learned a few tips. How can you identify the substantive knowledge based conferences before you book your tickets? It’s hard. I was fooled and a few of my wiser, more intelligent colleagues were also fooled. One thing we did that gave us the clues (too little too late, unfortunately) was Google the speaker while they were on stage. The results were very interesting. Most speakers’ Google results came up with a range of “fake news” sites that were clearly created to publish positive rubbish claims about the speaker. There were no articles from mainstream media publishers. Zero. Not on page 1 or page 2 of Google. By contrast, if you Google Josh Phegan (speaking at this year’s REIQ Summit conference, March 1 & 2) the top three News results are from Mumbrella, Forbes.com, and Domain, three reputable, established news organisations.
- The topic or theme: Does the marketing collateral imply that big bucks are headed your way after you attend the event? Does it suggest that you’re just one conference away from being a “million-dollar agent”? Be wary! Look for the conference that promises genuine education and doesn’t make impossible claims that it can’t support.
- In the room: Is everyone actually going to appear in person? A recent conference announced that they were bringing a big name social media influencer to their conference, but failed to reveal that it was a video link only. This, understandably, left a bitter taste in many attendees’ mouths because they had shelled out a substantial sum to be in the room physically with this celeb.
- Food! The good conferences may give you good food while the cheaper, less quality conferences may point you to the cafes and street food trucks outside the venue.
- Social proof: Ask around. Talk to people in different Facebook groups, asking for their opinion about the best and worst conferences and see what they say! Talk to you friends and colleagues – have they heard anything, have they attended the conference in the past? You’ll be surprised. You may think to yourself that you would have already heard if a colleague attended the conference you’re thinking about but they may not want to promote the fact they were fooled into going to a conference that didn’t meet their requirements. So they don’t tell people about it. Ask around and tell people you’re thinking of going and see what they say. These opinions can be the most trustworthy because they have no vested interest in whether you go or not.
Conferences and events are great for the real estate profession. Generally speaking, we’re a gregarious, outgoing bunch and we love to connect with our peers at a good conference. Good conferences will aim to give you tools that help you improve and make changes to your work and your life that will make you more effective. Other conferences may just get you excited and pumped up while you’re in the room and the celebrated speaker is in front of you but by the time you get to work on Monday that rah-rah enthusiasm has dissipated and you’re left with no real strategy that can be implemented. You may also end up feeling like you’re a bit of a failure because there’s no way you can live up to the standards set by the motivational speakers on stage.
Is that really good use of your hard-earned dollars?
Think about how you want to spend your money – do you want real value and get tools that will benefit your career and your day-to-day job, or do you want to get a selfie with a celebrity and spend another $400 on someone’s “guaranteed no-fail system”.