Trade shows, conferences, talks, panels, salons and everything in between are almost a business requirement these days. According to market researcher IBISWorld, conferences and trade shows are a $13.8 billion industry, and growing. There's a lot of competition for your attention - and your money - so choosing wisely is important!

Huge conferences schedule hundreds of talks, panels and sessions, many of them running concurrently -- like at CES or SXSW. It looks overwhelming on paper, but you really have to organize as time in between is often spent, well, running. The hectic pace can severely impair your ability to meet and greet, and you may not get the opportunity to see people who intrigue you more than once.

In contrast, a smaller conference offers you plenty of opportunity to get to know people, including the attending luminaries. And they often attract surprisingly big names.

At Nextcon 16, for example, a relatively smaller conference, headliners are Steve Wozniak and Guy Kawasaki. With 40 sessions across three days, you may have to make a few decisions, but plenty of time is allowed to mingle with a comparatively small crowd.

Imagine having the opportunity to talk to an industry legend. What would you ask, given the chance?

How to Choose a Conference

Since you could be spending a considerable amount of time and money you want to ensure attending an event that aligns with your business and meets your goals.

Are you headed to CES just for the sake of being there, or do you intend to scout business, meet certain brands or people, or listen to specific panels?

When I made the decision to attend Cosmoprof this year, it was to get a general lay of the beauty landscape. I met some incredible brands, and was able to talk to a ton of great marketing directors who gave some valuable insight to my newest venture.

However, on a startup budget, it was the only event we could attend this summer so we had to choose wisely. Here's how...

Budget. Decide how much you can spend. You may attend one giant conference and spend thousands for each attendee, or pick several smaller conferences. Or both. Start with how much you want to spend, then find the conference or combination of conferences that works. Don't forget to factor in travel, lodgings, meals, and entertainment.

Set goals. What do you most want to learn? Are there conferences that address your specific needs? If you plan to attend more than one, look for a progression. For example, one conference might focus on content marketing, one might cover SEO and technical web, and another might focus on growth and innovation.

Evaluate speakers. If you are going to learn something from a conference (big or small) you want to make sure the speakers are in line with your industry. Just this past month, FounderMade came to LA for the first time with an incredible lineup of speakers including Sakara Life, ClassPass, and more. This was a must attend for anyone in the wellness startup space.

Find out who is attending. If your friends or competition are going, you might want to take that into consideration. It's easy enough to find out, most people post on social media. Do you want to meet new people? Connect with a specific audience? Re-connect with people you've met before? Conferences are unique networking opportunities, so look beyond the speakers and consider the target audience.

Assess the logistics. Whether you choose a small conference with a few thousand people or a large one with tens of thousands, you can only be in one session at a time, and distance between back-to-back sessions may be a factor. Look at the list of session with a critical eye, and consider the layout of the venue itself. Make a list of the sessions you're most interested in and make a tentative schedule. If you end up going to a popular conference like SXSW, talk to someone who has been before. It makes a big difference.

When you've defined the various factors that will influence your decision, you can make a more informed decision about the best way to spend your money. The right conference can take you in new directions, inspire a new marketing strategy, or introduce you to career-changing influencers.

Published on: Oct 28, 2016