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Is it worth it to attend that industry conference?

I think conferences can be fun to attend. They offer an opportunity to see some big name speakers deliver keynote addresses. They offer an opportunity to meet new, likeminded people. They house breakout sessions which hold the promise to educate on hot trends or promising practices that can help me do things new or differently or better. And let’s face it, some conferences are held in some pretty fun cities and offer an escape from the daily grind at the office.

But are they really worth it?

Conference registration can run $1,700 or more. Airfare can add $400+ to the tab. Even with group hotel rates, you can end up dropping another $200+/night for 3 day conference. Meals and incidentals round out the expenses. Overall, a conference can run your employer more than $3,000 in direct costs, not to mention the expense of your time. Is it worth it?

In recent conferences I’ve attended, the promise of breakout session topics has given way to disappointment in the design and execution of the sessions with speakers doing very little to engage me or develop a session in which I can identify transferable lessons I can bring back home.

While the keynote speakers have been entertaining, I try to think back to a single keynote speech that I’ve felt compelled to act upon when I’ve come back home – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ken Jennings, David Pogue, John Jacobs (the co-founder of the Life is Good tshirt company).

Entertaining? Yes. Interesting? Yes. Actionable messages? I don’t think so. (To be fair to keynote speakers, Jane McGonigal did get me interested in gamification and the power of game elements in the learning space.)

I’m starting to form my own opinion on the value (or lack thereof) in attending industry conferences and I have some ideas on how conferences can be improved, but I’d like to hear from you. What’s been your experience at some of the conferences you’ve attended over the past year or two?

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Do you have some other thoughts on the value of attending conferences? Let’s hear ’em in the comment section.

Know someone else who might be interested in these poll questions? Pass this post along!

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