Conferences: When to go and when to pass?

Jan 25, 2012
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In the upcoming weeks, our Rude Calendar is pretty packed – meetups, conferences, weekend events, and more – in fact, we’re evening giving away one ticket to Entreprise 2.0 Summit in Paris.  It’s hard to know sometimes when it’s worth it – sure, there’s a price tag, but that’s rarely the deciding factor. This past week, the DLD conference in Munich, which was completely off my radar until the technorati were raving about it, proved that good conferences require careful studying and a learned eye. A lot of people have recently been asking me about the Salon des Entrepreneurs: what I think about it, whether I will go or not, so I thought I’d answer that by breaking down conferences, events, and really, and networking channel.

Preliminary Check: Where, When and How Much.

Before determining whether an event is even worth going, there are obviously a few preliminary checks I do to see if I will even look into the event: Where, When, and How Much. All three of these things have to be adjusted depending on the magnanimity of an event. For weekly meetups like OCC or an Apero, I’m not likely to go more than fifteen minutes out of my way, as that means 30 minutes round trip, and the event may only last an hour or two. For bigger conferences, when can be a big factor. I’m not likely to leave town in the middle of the week, especially if it requires planning weeks in advance, as my schedule is very chaotic, and setting aside a big block of time can be difficult. Naturally, I prefer evenings to mornings for local meetups, and I prefer weekends to weekdays for just about anything. How Much is the biggest variant: for large conferences, I know that I’m going to pay a lot, because there’s a chance I might get a lot out of it, so there’s no upper price tag. How Much is much more about additional charges: flight prices, hotel costs, organized dinners, etc. A ticket to LeWeb might break your startup’s wallet, but the hotel prices in Paris will kill you faster. With these checks, Salon Des Entrepreneurs barely passes: it’s a free event, but it’s in the middle of the week, and while it’s technically in the center of Paris, it’s at least 45 minutes away by metro; nonetheless, for an event with this much buzz, it requires further investigation

Question #1: Who’s Going?

There are three key elements upon which I determine my decision to go, and the top one is always a “Who” question. If it’s an evening meetup, no confirmed friends attending will drop me already to a 50% of going, as the event risks to be a dud. For bigger events, it’s the people I don’t know that are important. Is Eric Schmidt going to be there, or just the head of Google France? Will the speakers be approachable, or will they go from stage to towncar? Either way, a quick glance of the attendee list and the speaker list will tell you the level of interest you might have in the event – think of it as your social graph for the event. Plancast, Meetup, and Eventbrite are all really good at this, as each of them provides attendee lists for all confirmed attendees on the platform. Salon Des Entrepreneurs has enough people talking about it that I’m intrigued – at the very least, I might run into some great startups, or I might meet Loïc Le Meur.

Question #2: What’s going on?

The program for any event is always important: whether it’s an exposition like the SdE, or whether it’s a conference with fixed workshops, it’s important to check that this information is interesting to you. While it’s always possible to walk out and network at a big conference, the material presented on stage will influence what audience members come. If you’re not interested in what’s being talked about at a conference and everyone else is, what’re the odds they will prove a good networking lead?

At SdE, there are workshops, expositions, and speakers galore! Frankly, I get lost reading the lists – I see events for Auto-Entrepreneurs, Startups, big businesses; and yet, I don’t feel as if the event’s content is tailored to me – then again, it’s all in French!

Question #3: What do I need?

Whether it be a meetup, a conference, or just a drink with a colleague, you should always have an idea in mind of what you’re looking to get out of the occasion. I often see “social” startups – no, not social startups and not startups doing social – but startups who seem to exist only to talk about themselves at events “oh yes, we’re coming out with an android app soon,” “our product’s currently in private beta,” “we’re looking to disrupt the ****** market.” Whether it’s just to get a beer with some like-minded people, to learn about a new technology, or to market the hell out of yourself, make sure you have a game plan for an event; otherwise, the event will pass you by and you’ll wonder why you even came.

Conferences can be educational – I sat through most of FailCon with my laptop closed just listening to people’s experiences – and they can be a chance to ask your idol a question, like at LeWeb. They can be a social occasion, where arguably the best networking can be done, and they can be a business opportunity. The best way to choose your events schedule is to have a game plan, and to research which events align best with your game plan. Get it? Got it? Good.