As someone always looking to stay current on marketing and general business trends, I’m a frequent attendee of wedding industry conferences, workshops and continuing education. And every year, there are more and more options available—I’ve even become the host of a workshop series myself. As both an alum and creator of these experiences, I have some definite ideas about how to asses the value of the significant time and financial commitment for these events. When deciding where to invest, I think you should ask yourself these 5 questions:
1-WILL YOU GET ACCESS TO EXPERTS & LEADERS YOU CAN’T OTHERWISE EASILY GET ACCESS TO?
Some presenters and speakers are more accessible than others. You may ask yourself if you really need to invest a couple of thousands of dollars to hear from someone you can easily message or contact in some direct way already. I’m always excited to attend conferences where there will be hard-to-reach industry leaders I want to learn from and connect with, that I might not otherwise be able to. I also keep my eye out for speakers who aren’t the “usual suspects” at every event. There are some amazing folks out there that you may never have heard from—I’m always on the look-out for new talent or discovering existing amazing talent that’s just new to me.
But merely having a certain speaker present doesn’t guarantee you access to them—you need to also consider audience size. With a ton of attendees, access may not be feasible. Or if speakers merely speak and run, there may be no opportunity to actually meet them. If access is important to you, make sure you determine how much there will actually be.
2-WILL YOU GET INFORMATION YOU CAN’T OTHERWISE EASILY ACCESS?
I’ve definitely attended conferences in order to hear from a particular speaker whose message is unique and very relevant to whatever happens to be going on in my business at the time. When I decided to host my own workshop/conference, I attended 2 different conferences with successful conference hosts as speakers. Those individuals didn’t offer courses or share their knowledge in any other way so getting to hear from them as speakers was invaluable to me (and also, per # 1 above, I also got unique access to them individually with my burning questions and issues).
Think about the areas in your business you’re wanting the most help with and then determine if a workshop or conference experience will offer unique knowledge in that area.
3-WILL YOU WALK AWAY WITH TANGIBLE VALUE & ACTIONABLE KNOWLEDGE OR SKILLS?
This is especially true of workshops for me (you know, the industry experiences where you actually *do*, not just listen to speakers)—just doing something for fun has it’s intrinsic enjoyment value but again, when spending several thousand dollars to attend a workshop, I want to walk away knowing how to do something I didn’t know before, or doing something I did know how to do, much better than before. In the area of marketing, floral design, photography, for instance, the evaluation should be, will you do those things better as a result of the workshop. In the case of my own workshop, I aim to equip wedding designers with fundamental skills for improving in the general areas of marketing and showcasing their businesses but very specifically, in the area of design itself and the large-scale production of a successful styled shoot. Our attendees walk away with professional images that are tangibly useful as new portfolio content, potential publication pieces, and targeted marketing images. Whatever your area of focus or interest, the workshop you attend should help you walk away with similar value.
4-ARE THERE HIDDEN ADDITIONAL COSTS?
In order to decide whether to invest in a conference or workshop experience, you need to know whether there are additional costs beyond the sticker price. It’s always frustrating to get excited about an experience, get ready to register but then discover there are additional costs. For out-of-town events, there will obviously be transportation costs but you should research whether there will also be hotel costs, costs for meals, and charges for additional conference materials. Also consider hidden costs—I once registered for an already expensive workshop, budgeted for hotel and meals, only to discover too late that taxi costs between the airport and workshop location would be an additional $300–ouch! When deciding if you can afford an industry conference and its value, think through all the potential additional expenses so you have a full picture of the cost. For this reason, I make all my workshops all-inclusive of meals, materials and hotel stay.
5-IS THE INVESTMENT WORTH THE RETURNS YOU WILL REAP?
There are endless ways to evaluate this philosophically but generally, ask yourself will you eventually make back what you invest in the conference or workshop, either through generating more clients or charging more over all, as a result of your new knowledge, skills and connections. Of course we can’t accurately predict this ahead of time but look out for clues in the description, itinerary and speaker panel. You should at least be able to clearly see the potential for what new useful knowledge will be shared; what new skills are going to be taught; what group of people will be available for you to make valuable new connections with; what tangible new asset you can walk away with. For that last one, I particularly love conferences or workshops that include a bonus asset like images of my work, new head shots (we all need them but never get around to it!), site/seo evaluations, and other one-off valuable custom products or services.
There are also non-monetary returns you can consider. For example, I love to travel, so conferences and retreats that have been held in international locations I wanted to travel to, have also been attractive to me and count as an additional benefit in my overall evaluation. For each continuing education investment decision, try to think more deeply about what less obvious additional benefits might be had.
Of course there is all kind of more detailed analysis to be made with respect to logistics, payment structure, specific itinerary and more, but I find these five basic questions to be a great start to the decision-making process, and will help you decide if you need go any further in your analysis.
What have been some of your favorite industry conferences & workshops? What did you love about them? Which ones have you been wanting to attend?