I recently attended a local eCommerce conference and was once again faced with the same question I ask myself pretty much every time I attend a conference. Is this worth the time and expense? It’s something I struggle with usually after conferences since it’s usually several thousand dollars and as much as a week of my time when all is said and done. With the books and podcasts available today, I always tend to be underwhelmed by the content packed into such a big event. Plus, I’ve never been one to go to a conference for the sake of the destination or the party, so it’s important to me to come back to the office with a long list of actionable ideas.
Here’s a brief review my experiences at various conferences:
Stone Edge User Conference (Philadelphia, PA) – Back in my Stone Edge days this was a critical conference to attend. I would go and shamelessly bribe the top developers with bottles of whiskey to be able to get their direct contact info. It was literally just a trip to go schmooze with the people that could make our life a little easier as users. Occasionally I’d also learn about a new feature of the software or a new partner they brought on board, but their support was so backed up that my primary focus was to have them remember me and answer the phone when I called, and it worked! This was worth it but for other reasons than most conferences are.
Channel Advisor Catalyst Conference (Las Vegas, NV) – To date this has been the best conference I’ve ever attended. It was a much higher level event. They had excellent speakers and the whole thing had a more advanced feel to it. This is what I wish all conferences were like – new & challenging ideas with skilled speakers. Walked away pumped up and with a ton of new ideas. The only problem was that most of this was pertaining to marketplace selling, which I no longer do much of.
Internet Retailer Conference (Chicago, IL) – This is the biggest eCommerce conference in the country. The best stuff I got out of it was talking with some random guys while splitting a cab back to the hotel. The vendors were also interesting to speak with, but the sessions were not necessarily amazing. I think this conference is still worth attending just to see whats available out there as far as new services and software geared towards eCommerce, but I think I probably had the shortest list of ideas after this conference. Maybe it was the amount of distractions and activities?
Operations Summit (Memphis, TN) – This conference was somewhat dry but in fairness the topic doesn’t usually inspire grand visions of world domination. It was all about operations, fulfillment, supply chain, etc. The interesting thing about this conference though is that even though I didn’t necessarily hear a ton of amazing ideas, just being in the room and being undistracted and thinking about the topics of the talks gave me tons and tons of ideas, probably more than any other conference I’ve attended. This is when I realized that even if a conference is not just a series of amazing speeches hand fed to you, they can have huge value and be worth attending.
Bronto Summit (Raleigh, NC) – I went to this conference when I was entering the email marketing world. I was a complete newbie and for that it was great. I shamelessly walked from person to person and after making small talk asked them for the exact campaign setup they had. This finally gave me some framework to start operating within. I left with a lot of new knowledge, but I don’t think that would be the case if I went back again. This one to me was a one time thing. To be fair I met some great vendors there as well, but now I usually just check out the Bronto App store to see who they are working with, so a trip there doesn’t necessarily seem worth it. I plan to do this same sort of thing with an upcoming “Customer Experience” conference as I dig deeper into that part of the business.
Practical Ecommerce Ignite Conference (Dallas, TX) – This was a recent conference I attended and it was their first attempt at one. I found it to be someone entry level in terms of topics covered, so if you’re an individual or in a small eCommerce company I would totally recommend it. In my case though I think I’m better off with larger events where they can dig deeper into specific topics. Either way though it was a good opportunity to think about certain topics and see what a speaker might say that triggers an idea for you. I walked away from this conference with several pages of ideas like that.
So a couple things come to mind as I think of all these conferences. I usually walk away skeptical that it was worth it. As I review them all though I can remember actionable ideas that somehow came about through each one of these conferences that have been implemented. And these ideas have easily had a far greater financial impact on the company than the cost of a week of my time and the various other expenses that come with it (with the exception of the one I went to recently, not enough time has passed).
Maybe my gut feeling about them does not actually reflect the reality then. Even the events I thought were a waste have generated huge returns. In the cases of user conferences I wonder if they would do that annually, or if it’s a one time thing. As long as you’re removed from your daily routines and interruptions I think you could come up with lists of ideas no matter where you were sitting. Maybe for that reason alone most conferences are worth it as long as you have a track record of actually implementing the ideas you take home. I might also just have my expectations miscalibrated and this is why everyone else has been going to these the whole time. It’s also difficult to decide how many conferences it’s prudent to attend. Every year I usually average two. Would I get more out of it if I did more? Or is that the point of diminishing returns?
It looks like I’ve generated more questions in this post than answers. If I were forced to come to a conclusion though I think I have to say that my gut on conferences is wrong here and they they are actually worth more than I give them credit for. I already read the trade magazines and blogs but it seems important to really be immersed from time to time.
Any readers that have made it this far through my musings today that have some good conferences to recommend, or even some good strategies to get the most out of them, please comment below!