We go to a lot of eLearning conferences at LearnUpon. Between our account management, tech, operations and marketing teams, we attend up to 30 a year. Every once in a while we like to stand back and ask: are eLearning conferences actually worth it? When you tally up ticket costs, flights, hotels and time away from the office, a conference starts to look like a serious investment. With Learning Technologies 2016 just winding down, we asked the top learning and training professionals we’re closest to (our customers!) to share their best advice. Here’s the how, when and where of getting maximum value from eLearning conferences this year.
eLearning conferences are worth it if:
- You know what you want to accomplish. There are many reasons to attend an eLearning conference. At LearnUpon, we usually go to exhibit and demo the latest features of our LMS to prospective customers. Sometimes our goal is to learn and keep our skills up-to-date with the latest innovations in eLearning. We also value the opportunity conferences give us to connect with customers and partners we don’t get to see often enough in person. But trying to accomplish all of these things at one conference is daunting. That’s one reason why most of our customers attend at least two eLearning conferences every year. Which conference you choose will also be influenced by your goals, with each event offering different strengths. Some conferences, like Learning Solutions, are great for catching thought leaders in person. Others, like DevLearn, are best for testing new tools and technologies. Start by deciding what you want conferences to deliver this year. This focus will make it easier to whittle your selection to the handful that fit your goals.
Richard Smith from Maybo recommends:
Conferences can be costly to attend, both in time and money invested. To really get value, it’s important to do your research beforehand. Identify what you want to get out of it and stay focused on your objectives when you’re there. It’s easy to turn up with no idea who’s exhibiting or speaking and casually wander around hoping you’ll learn through osmosis! Instead, take an hour to look through the exhibitor list and identify five providers you may benefit from speaking to and learning about. Do the same with the seminar schedule. While I identify sessions that address subjects that are very relevant to me in advance, I often learn more at panels on subjects I’ve little or no prior knowledge of. If you’ve time, walk past every exhibitor. Often the newest, most innovative companies will have a small budget and a modest stand tucked far away from the thoroughfare. Try to speak to as many exhibitors as possible, even for 60 seconds to hear their headline sales proposition. Many won’t be relevant but you won’t know unless you engage with them.
- You’re selective about which conferences you attend. There are a huge number of eLearning conferences out there, held in far-flung locations, and with tickets pitched at very different price points. Instead of considering each conference individually, stand back once a year and be strategic about your selection. Examine your calendar for the next 6-12 months and compare the conferences you’d like to attend against competing commitments. The quality and content of eLearning conferences also varies widely, with specialist tracks focusing on everything from Instructional Design to organizational leadership. If you’re relatively new to the conference circuit, compile a shortlist based on criteria like reputation, scale, cost, and convenience. If it’s too early for session information to be available, research sponsors and panels from previous years. Pick a conference with an established reputation to begin with. If attendees have paid to return year-on-year, the organizers are probably doing something right. A new conference is a riskier proposition.
Tom Brooksher from Zipline Performance recommends:
eLearning conferences are worth it if you don’t overdo them. Take time to make a plan and set up key meetings in advance.
- People you really want to meet will be there. Networking is one of the top three reasons our customers attend conferences. Whether your intention is to meet prospects or partners, the relationships you make and build by attending similar conferences regularly will add value throughout your career. The types of people you aim to meet will be aligned with your goals. If your main aim is to enhance your professional knowledge, you’ll spend less time talking to vendors. But if you have unanswered questions about tools or services, you’ll need to leave sufficient time to thoroughly explore the expo. Most of our customers advise against leaving meetings to chance. Reach out to those you want to meet in advance and let them know when and where you’ll try to find them. While it’s good to explore new conferences, returning to the same event annually helps to cement bonds with the network you’ve already worked to establish.
Kajal Kavia from CMS recommends:
I attend eLearning conferences for a few reasons: to identify new approaches, technologies or partners that can help us to evolve our eLearning business. I also like to attend sessions. They often include real-life case studies that can be useful to compare against our own eLearning experiences. And the quality of a presentation can indicate an organization’s potential to contribute as a partner. I also go to network with like-minded professionals in the industry and share ideas and best practice I can apply when I get back to the office. There’s huge value in being exposed to the senior professionals conferences attract – the influencers and decision makers within a business who can be difficult to meet elsewhere.
- The ROI compares well with other channels. If there are alternative ways to accomplish the same goal, consider whether attending a conference is the most cost-efficient and convenient option. Focusing on ROI will help you to justify costs, particularly if tickets are expensive or you must travel a significant distance to attend. If you’re an exhibitor, conferences will fall within your marketing budget and can be evaluated against other acquisition tactics. ROI for professional development purposes may depend on who pays and the return they expect. That doesn’t mean that free or cheaper conferences are automatically the best choice, even if your projected ROI is relatively low. Attendees are generally willing to pay for the calibre of expertise and technology they’re exposed to. Understanding the role eLearning conferences are expected to play within your organization will help define a reasonable investment.
Lisa Davis from Denver Water recommends:
My reasons for selecting a specific conference vary but I usually go to learn a new approach to training or test new software tricks. I’ll also go if feel I can’t miss a presentation by an industry leader or a recent winner of an award that I admire.
- It’s close and convenient. The further you need to travel to attend a conference, the greater the expense, and the longer you’ll be away from your daily tasks and duties. Once you’ve shortlisted 3-5 conferences that offer the best return on your goals, look closely at logistics. If all other factors are relatively equal, the closer a conference is located, the easier it may be to justify investment.
Dr. Seán McCarthy from Hyperion recommends:
I only attend a conference if keynote talks focus on something that’s relevant now. I don’t think eLearning conferences that focus on theory or give a platform to presenters who are simply selling a product or service are worth the time and money invested.
How to get the most from eLearning conferences:
- Plan your conference calendar once a year.
- Be clear about what you want to accomplish at each conference. Define an ROI.
- Return to one specific conference regularly.
- Arrange your calendar so you can concentrate on the conference and leave distractions at the office.
- Contact the 5 attendees you most want to meet 1-2 weeks before the conference starts.
- Attend at least one session that’s outside your specialism.
- Follow-up with your top contacts by email or on social media within 24 hours.
- Check in with your network regularly.
The experience of our customers indicates that, while eLearning conferences are expensive, they’re worth the investment when they’re approached strategically. Attendees are actively searching for inspiration for new products, services and partnership opportunities. If you have something to add, you have every reason to be there, and much to gain. As someone once said: while you can put a price on flights, hotels and tickets, the contacts and inspiration you return with really can be priceless.