Would you gag if I told you that I'm going to several conferences next year?

Well, that just means you aren't going to the right ones. As the year bends toward its end, you should be thinking about how you're going to grow yourself and your business in 2017. Attending a quality conference can help.

So, how do you avoid the conferences that make you gag and only go to the ones that make you great? Here are the three main criteria I use when picking events to attend, followed by seven I wholeheartedly recommend that you consider for 2017:

  1. The Content - I want a conference with highly valuable, actionable content based on a sound curriculum, regardless of whether it's coming from the speakers, networking, breakouts, or any other aspect of the program. Teach me something I don't know and that I can use.
  2. The People - There's such a thing as "quality attendees." These are people who show up with an open mind and an open heart. They want to learn. They want to teach. They want to help each other grow. When a conference brings together the right audience, everyone in it benefits.
  3. The Non-Pitch - Have you ever been to a conference where one speaker after another pitched his or her wares? It's like watching a series of infomercials with each sage on the stage finishing with an urgent, compelling offer to sprint to the back of the room with your credit card. These "pitchfests," as they're commonly called, quite literally turn my stomach. I remember one conference where the speaker told the audience we were "doomed" if we didn't sign up to take his program. Needless to say, I didn't bite. And obviously I lived to tell the tale.

The conferences on my list are not pitchfests. They are content rich with a real focus on applicable knowledge and education. The folks in the crowd with you are also there to learn, network, and try new things. So, with those criteria in mind, here, in no particular order, are seven conferences I recommend for 2017...

Secret Knock

This is a membership-based community that brings together like-minded leaders. The A-list of accomplished business speakers don't just present from the stage, they mix with the attendees. The topic for 2017 is "The (Secret) of Building Wealth," which is something most of us (all of us?) are interested in. It's a great opportunity to meet with and learn from investors and entrepreneurs.

CEO Space

This is a great place to incubate ideas. Years ago, Jack Canfield came to one of these events and floated an idea. You might know it as Chicken Soup for the Soul. CEO Space has evolved into an advanced cooperative networking organization. It brings together entrepreneurs and investors from all areas of business. There are four or five forums a year. (Full disclosure: I may speak at one of their events or join their faculty in 2017.)

World Business Forum

This is one of the most reputable conferences in the world, with speakers that range from Kevin Spacey to Richard Branson. It is one of those conferences that pushes leaders to reinvent themselves so they can evolve ahead of the changing times in which we live and work. In fact, the 2017 Forum in Sidney is titled "We all are in a state of permanent beta." I know I am, anyway.

Incite Marketing Summit

Chief Marketing Officers from some of the top US and global brands provide practical as well as inspirational insights for entrepreneurs and other marketing leaders. The 2017 West Coast summit will focus on three key areas--the power of storytelling, personalization, marketing attribution. Every entrepreneur needs to know this stuff.

Grow Conference

My editor at Inc. didn't demand I put this on the list. It just deserves to be here. The three-day event in 2017 will be in New Orleans, so the food alone would be worth it. But you'll also learn valuable insights and strategies for growing your business, and you can meet with hundreds of other successful entrepreneurial leaders.

Thrive

The founders launched this event in 2015, and it was a huge hit. Think of it as where entrepreneurialism meets personal development. The details are in the works for a 2017 conference, so sign up for their updates.

Digital Footprint

The 2016 event I attended in California was intimate and highly educational. They take great care of their attendees for up to four days of insights and inspiration that apply to your business and all of life. Keep an eye out for their 2017 Digital Footprint dates, which should be released soon.

The right conference is a great resource to help you learn how to be a leader. What are your picks?