Since there are so many high-quality conferences and events put on each year, you really need to think about which ones you should go to and what you'll get out of them by attending.

At the end of each year I have the team at my e-mail marketing company, VerticalResponse provide me a list of the events they're considering, along with why they want to go. I also ask them to provide (and this is the biggie), "what's in it for our customers?" This may seem odd as attending a conference is all about personal and career development, networking and the like, but nowadays, we can't keep all that juicy content to ourselves. We've got to get the word out and share what we've learned with our customers. So what's the benefit for your employees and your customers of attending a conference? I've got four top takeaways.

1.  Learn

This is the most obvious motivation for most people who attend conferences. And given the quality and quantity of conferences out there, you'd be hard-pressed to find one where you couldn't learn something. But, be thoughtful and choosy about which sessions you commit to. At SXSW recently, the lines were so long for some sessions that my team got shut out from many that they really wanted to attend, even after waiting for over two hours to get in. And, from time-to-time you'll go to a session with high hopes, only to realize it's not hitting the mark, or meeting your expectations, so look through the agenda and pick the ones you think are the best fits. If they don't measure up, don't feel bad about leaving a session if it's not meeting your needs. You paid to be there and need to make the most of it. The worst thing you can do is stay put, zone out and start surfing the web or online shopping. Get up and get what you need.

2. Network

This is one of the most popular reasons people cite for attending a conference. And who doesn't like the opportunity to get to know and meet new people who work in the same industry? There's an incredible amount of sharing, learning and leveraging that can happen. For instance, we were developing a ProWebinar Series and needed to recruit some industry experts, so while our social media manager was attending New Media Expo, he was able to connect with lots of heavy-hitters and get their commitment to join our series. We were also able to connect with a great vendor on the tradeshow floor and ended up signing a deal with them on the spot. A win-win.

3. Content

A few years ago, people went to conferences, learned lots of things and that was that. Then along came social media and everything changed. Now look around a room at a conference and note that almost everyone is tweeting snippets and stats using conference hashtags. Even if you're not at the conference, you can follow along. There are live feeds, blogs and more covering all the action. Now when my team goes to a conference I ask, "what content will you bring back?" and they know the expectation. When we go anywhere we are tweeting, live blogging, posting to Instagram and any other social networks we feel are relevant. By being part of the conference buzz, we get our names out there and get a slice of that coveted thought leadership pie.

Plus, most of our small business customers could never afford the entry price to these conferences, so it's our job to cover it and distill the information so they can benefit from our attendance.

4. Share

If you send someone to a conference and they learn and network and create content, then that's great. But, to truly make it valuable, they've got to bring all that back and share it with all the folks who didn't get to go to the conference, but could benefit from the good stuff. And, having the extra responsibility of bringing something back to share encourages your team to be present and engaged during the conference.

There you have my four benefits of attending a conference. Do you support and enable your team to attend them? What's your biggest motivator?

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