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How to Make the Most of In-Person Business Conferences

4 Mins read

There’s no substitute for an in-person business conference.

Case in point: This past October, my company, Deltek, hosted its 16th annual customer conference, now called Deltek ProjectCon, gathering over 3,000 project-based business professionals to learn how to power project success and innovation at their companies. It was a packed week of learning, networking, and community-building.

Why have we continued to host our customers for more than a decade? It’s not just because we love organizing days of programming for thousands of ERP pros. It’s because we recognize the value of coming together with our peers and customers to connect as people and professionals. Year after year, we hear from attendees who leave the conference energized and inspired.

For SMBs with limited resources, it’s easy to question whether attending an in-person business conference is worth the investment. Time away from the office, paying for conference admission, hotels, and plane tickets—it adds up. But it’s important to weigh the costs against the long-term benefits of staying current on evolving industry trends, building industry relationships, and taking advantage of learning opportunities, such as earning certifications.

In many cases, the benefits of attending an in-person conference far outweigh the expense—especially if you approach the conference with the right mindset.

The value of attending in-person business conferences

While virtual conferences offer benefits in terms of flexibility and affordability, there’s still no substitute for the magic of attending a conference in person. For attendees, industry conferences are often energetic events that offer firsthand learning and networking opportunities. And they provide practical insights that attendees can immediately incorporate into their daily work.

Conferences also help promote a sense of community that’s difficult to achieve virtually. Every year, we hear our attendees remark that this is their third, fifth, or even 10th time attending the conference. Participants keep returning because they find value in the programming, but the relationship-building aspect also plays a significant role.

In-person conferences offer a place for attendees to meet business partners, peers, and customers—often for the first time. Even when there isn’t a pre-existing relationship, a connection made at a business conference can lead to a lifelong business partnership.

Additionally, conferences provide unique opportunities for knowledge sharing. Keynote presenters, workshop administrators, and panelists have unique insights on the latest industry developments.

From a macro perspective, conferences allow participants to zoom out from their day-to-day responsibilities and look at the big picture. Is your organization behind the industry curve, or are you on track? What innovations are folks excited about? Learning from attendees and presenters will provide valuable context that can help inform future decision-making.

3 tips to make the most of your business conference experience

The lead-up to a conference can be intimidating, especially if it’s your first one. An agenda full of activities, programming, and new faces can fly by before you know it, and the last thing you want is to leave feeling like you haven’t gotten your money’s worth.

Here are three things your team should consider when approaching your next in-person industry conference.

1—Conduct research and go to the conference with a plan

A successful conference experience begins long before the event kicks off. It’s important to set a clear objective for why you want to attend the conference. Is it primarily for networking purposes? Learning and development? A mix of several things? Gaining clarity on your purpose for being there will help you build an itinerary that serves your best interests.

During the research process, solicit opinions from others. Ask colleagues and coworkers about their previous conference experiences. This may surface insights that would have been impossible to uncover through a quick Google search.

2—Prioritize new connections

Business conferences are inherently social events, but you still need to make an effort to network and create meaningful connections. Take advantage of interactive sessions, breakout groups, and other activities that encourage communication among attendees.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that drive connections. For example, at Deltek ProjectCon, we have a separate area devoted to Brain Dates, where attendees can meet in small groups, away from keynotes and other sessions, to ask questions or discuss industry-related topics with other attendees. This adds another dimension to the conference, promoting relationship-building and knowledge-sharing around topics that may not be on the official agenda. A short interaction with someone here can lead to a more substantive discussion after the conference, which can ultimately lead to a new business relationship.

3—Enjoy a diverse range of programming

Only you know what your priorities at the conference should be, but consider the importance of diversifying your experience. Too narrow a focus can be limiting and ultimately diminish the ROI of attending.

In addition to networking, carve out time to take advantage of learning opportunities. These should be both industry-specific and actionable — you should leave the conference excited about applying what you’ve learned to your own work.

For example, some conferences—including ours—offer attendees the opportunity to earn industry certifications—an opportunity that provides immediate value once the conference is over. Conferences that offer a mix of practical skill-building, educational panels, and inspiring keynotes can offer the greatest return on your investment.

Business conferences are a worthwhile endeavor for SMBs

If attending business conferences isn’t currently part of your yearly routine, it’s time for that to change. In-person events can deliver real value to both you and your organization, especially if you return to the same ones year after year.

After a decade and a half, customers keep returning to Deltek ProjectCon mainly because they continue to find these events valuable. The learning opportunities, sense of community, and mix of old and new faces provide a one-of-a-kind experience.

So, what conferences will your team attend in 2024? By properly vetting conferences and approaching them with intentionality, your organization can glean insights and new connections that provide both immediate and long-term value.

Margo Martin is the Group VP of Customer Success at Deltek.


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