Last week, I flew out to Las Vegas for New Media Expo. NMX is a huge conference for content creators of all kinds: bloggers, podcasters, web video and series producers, and more.
Events and conferences like NMX promise a lot to attendees — and they should, when you consider the costs of going to a conference.
You pay not only for a conference pass, but you also need to pay for transportation to get there and accommodations once you arrive. You’ll probably want to eat at some point, too, and meals out for 3 to 7 days becomes a big expense.
Of course, there’s not a standard cost associated with industry events. Your expenses will depend on what type of event you attend, where it’s at, and how long you want to stay. (It may also depend on where you live if you need to fly.)
Some conferences will run attendees $1,000 — just for the pass or ticket. Others are more accessible. In my own experience, I don’t know of a conference that offers a better deal than FinCon for anyone in the financial space (including pros like financial advisors).
Tickets can go as low as $150 and range from there on up during early bird sales. But the standard price is just $349. Conference organizers also make a sincere effort to keep costs low for attendees, like choosing locations based on reasonable hotel room price.
Regardless, any nonessential expense when you’re underemployed and under-earning can seem like a real burden. Make that doubly-true if you’re like me: frugal, skeptical of hyped-up anything, and inexperienced with how in the hell networking actually works.
When money’s tight but you want to advance your career, do conferences and other industry events make good sense?
Do Industry Events Provide a Real ROI?
I would argue that, yes, the right event can provide a return on the investment you made to get yourself there. Along with choosing the right event, you need to develop the right mindset before you go.
You need to have a goal. What do you want to achieve at this conference? What outcome would make it a successful event for you? Don’t go without a plan or without an idea of what you’re looking to accomplish.
If you come prepared, an industry event can help you learn a new skill that you can implement back home — and practice it until you become more qualified for that job you couldn’t get last year. Industry events enable you to connect with people, in person, that you might otherwise send a forgettable email to that goes no where. Attending something new can open your eyes to new things, and provide insights and ideas that you didn’t even realize were options and solutions.
I’ll let you in on something I’ve learned: skipping out on in-person events is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made (and continue to make!) in cultivating a career I love. This includes all kinds of events, not just expensive conferences.
How to Make Conferences Worth It
Why is that? What do attendees get out of these things that make conferences worth it?
Education: If you attend any events with speakers, panels, or sessions, there’s an opportunity to learn new things from an expert in the industry. You can also have the opportunity to ask questions and speak one-on-one with the presenter. Even if you don’t learn something completely new, old information presented in a new light can provide a lot of inspiration.
Inspiration and Motivation: Inspiration is really everywhere when you attend an event and engage with the content. Conversations you have, sessions you attend, and people you meet can all help you feel inspired and ready to make progress on your work. Seeing other people doing something amazing can motivate you to try one of your ideas. Just spending time somewhere new can spark fresh ideas and creativity.
Networking: This is a biggie. My favorite part about conferences is getting to hang out with new friends and old. It’s getting to talk to new people and hear what they’re working on and why. Networking can lead to awesome new opportunities and, when you work virtually, it helps you connect names and faces. That’s huge!
Networking Doesn’t Need to Come Naturally!
I’m still figuring out the benefits of in-person events myself, and as an introvert, I’m constantly having to push myself to get out and attend. One of the biggest take-home lessons for me from NMX wasn’t from a session, or even connections made from my own networking efforts. It was from watching other people network.
I did hand out a few business cards, but I intentionally hung back at some points just to observe others and how they interacted with people they didn’t know. It was fascinating how good some people were at this.
They’d give the same elevator pitch to every single person, but each time it was tweaked just a little bit and tailored to that specific conversation. It wasn’t mechanical, it didn’t sound fake, and it didn’t come off as rehearsed. Even though they were talking about their own work, their words actually meant something — it didn’t all get translated in my head as “me me me me me me me.. oh, and me!”
And almost every single time, these people were asked, “do you have any [business] cards?” They didn’t have to force someone to accept their information; people wanted to know more. I was impressed and a little envious at how easily all this came to these people.
Then it hit me: they learned how to do this! And then they practiced and built experience. That, of course, meant I could learn and practice it, too.
Sure, some people can talk the ears off a brick wall, but it’s one thing to be comfortable speaking. It’s another to know exactly what to say, how to say it, and when in the conversation. These were polished skills at work, not just natural extroverts going to town without thinking.
If you feel uncomfortable with networking, talking about yourself and what you do, or unsure of how any of this works, know that these aren’t skills reserved for a select few. These things can be taught. And you can learn.
That was my big takeaway from NMX: keep getting out there and continue to learn how to market myself. While I’m much happier (and more comfortable, and better) at marketing other people, learning to create fans and followers for yourself is a critical skill — and one I need to work on.
Where to Start to Boost Your Career
Industry events can provide you a real return on your investment — again, especially considering that you don’t have to shell out big bucks to attend major conferences.
If you’re not comfortable spending money when you’re not earning much, start small and local. Check out meetups that happen in your town and search to find organizations, groups, or clubs that function in your field or areas of interest. (Try Meetup to find something around you.)
Get out there and interact with others. Remember, everyone has something to teach you that can help you reach your career and work goals.
Not sure how to put yourself out there? Take a step back and learn first! You can attend seminars or join groups like Toastmasters to learn and practice new skills. You can rely on books, as well, as long as that’s not your sole strategy.
It’s one thing to know what to do. It’s another to get out and put it to work for you.
And even though they cost more, big industry conferences can provide a huge return on investment. You don’t have to hit them all, but do consider creating a savings fund to get you to an important one each year.
For me, that conference is FinCon. I’d beg, steal, and borrow my way to get there every year if I needed too — it’s that much fun, and it’s that valuable. I’ve made incredible connections there, l picked up some of my best clients from those networking events, and made great friendships. I always walk away with new knowledge and lots of inspiration.
Shameless plug: I’m extremely excited for this year, as XY Planning Network — where I’m the marketing manager — is also holding #XYPN15 during the same week and location. It’s going to be one big week of amazing people and fantastic content.
Conferences are worth it if you choose the right ones for your goals. Think about what you want to accomplish with your career, and then make a plan to get to an event that can give you a boost.
What are your favorite conferences, or must-attend events throughout the year?