I just got sent an unsolicited email to attend yet another conference in Sydney full of speakers I’ve never heard of who appear to be drones from the middle layer of management from a few big-name companies like Telstra (they seem to have someone at every conference these days) a big media company, a news provider and several people from app startups and tech companies none of you will have ever heard of. And it got me to thinking about why I would want to pay $900 to walk in the door, another $800 in flights and about another $5-600 in accommodation to be there.

I came up empty.
When I was a relatively important employee of a previous employer, I loved going to conferences. Not for the learning experience or new knowledge that I’d walk away from. Not for the valuable tools that I would take back to my workplace. Not for the new connections I’d made across my industry.
I loved conferences because they were like a professional mini-holiday. I’d get a little bag of goodies. Stickers. Booklets. A schedule of speakers. There was usually food and drinks. After parties and social functions at night. And a cool lanyard with my name printed on it. I felt important. And I was the only person from my workplace going to it, so I felt special. Often I’d have to fly there and stay in a hotel. Lavish!
What a ego-driven waste of money.
And that is the core of what business seminars and conferences are. Ego and self-importance.
And here’s three reasons why conferences are essentially useless.

  1. 1,2 or 3 days that you’d spend at the conference, so much information is hurled at you that your chances of retaining any of it are essentially zero.
  2. Anything that you do learn at the conference and try to bring back to your workplace or business will not be implemented because people hate change.
  3. Conferences will focus in on a very small segment of an industry or interest-area. They provide the opportunity to zero-in on one idea, product, service or trend at the expense of everything else out there, so the bias on those things is massive.

So in 2018, here’s what I encourage us, as business owners and operators to do, instead of going to conferences:

  1. Hold a regular catch-up with a selection of your clients so you can listen to them tell you, over food or drinks, what their concerns are, and what they are hearing about that piques their interest
  2. Go to small, cheaper seminars locally that cover much the same stuff. You’ll benefit from more individualised attention from local groups like The Business Enterprise Centre or Slim Digital than you will from a conference with 600 delegates
  3. Watch free stuff on YouTube. Seriously. There is very little that will happen at any conference anywhere in Australia that hasn’t already been covered by someone on YouTube or via TED or the myriad of other free-to-watch video services that carry umpteen hours of solid business advice programming on them.

So. $2000-$3000 bucks to be at some big important conference down south? Or a bunch of free videos you can watch in bed on your iPad?
If you need to feel important, you can always go to Officeworks and pick up a lanyard and write your name on it with a Sharpie.