Does a high-priced conference ticket promise higher quality of content and better value for money and time? As a busy professional, which events should I spend my time and money on?

Many of my colleagues are facing this question, either as freelancers or in a corporate capacity.

Over the years I have been a conference participant, speaker, organizer, and sponsor both in Israel and worldwide. The Israeli market is a tough one since Israelis are not easily persuaded to pay for knowledge – evident from their unwillingness to pay for research, consultation services, etc. But conferences can be valuable.

The trick is to choose the best and most interesting ones. I’ve put together tips for deciphering which conferences will best suit your needs, at least in Israel:

Large-scale conventions focus on market trends.

A conference titled “The Future of Marketing” will cover a broad variety of topics. If the content directors are good, they’ll make sure to feature each and every new trend, but only in a nutshell. Calcalist, TheMarker convention and other events organized by mainstream publications fit into this category and usually cover marketing trends well.

Niche conferences provide more in-depth knowledge than large events.

If you work predominantly with B2B internationally, I recommend conferences that focus on global B2B activity. B2B in Israel is an entirely different beast. This goes for any other segmentation.

Meetups provide high-quality content and enable fantastic networking opportunities, but are usually limited to a few dozen participants.

For instance, our #B2BTalks meetups focus on quality rather than quantity – especially because in contrast to large conferences, people feel more comfortable sharing their questions in smaller forums.

Don’t be blinded by international speakers.

One of the more irrational things in this field in Israel is that we tend to be more receptive and impressed with a presentation if the presenter’s name is John (rather than Tzachi). Take note of who the speakers are, where they work and what their topic is. There’s some incredible knowledge to be found right here within local Israeli companies. Focus on the speaker and the content of his or her presentation – that’s what counts.

Draw comparisons between sponsors and speakers to work out the ratio of speakers who paid to take the podium.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that the content is not useful, but usually, to some degree, the content has been influenced by commercial motives. I have attended some superb panels and talks that clearly were intended to promote a business or service, and others which had no business motives but turned out to be pretty lame. However, if you see that all the speaking slots were bought by vendors, and the speakers are their marketing people, get ready to be pitched.

The same goes for service providers versus practitioners.

Although admitting it is probably shooting myself in the foot, since we do provide marketing services, this is another good parameter by which to rate podium performance.

There are two major things you should take note of. The first is that service providers tend to have a broader market view than a company’s marketing team does, since the former work with multiple clients, and must continuously innovate to stay competitive.

The second is that good conferences limit opportunities for a speaker to use the forum for selling their services.
Again, it always boils down to the speaker’s quality and knowledge.

Try to find out who the content directors are.

Three of the best content directors I have worked with are Sivan Klingbail in marketing and media industry with a focus on B2C, and Udi Ledergor and Yael Kochmann with a focus on B2B topics. They are professionals in their field, and I know that their programs are always exciting. Content directors have a tremendous impact on conference quality, especially for events that are not solely sponsor-driven.

A conference’s value doesn’t begin and end with what happens at the podium.

Networking, especially if unplanned, provides high added value for participants. Take this into account when you weigh up your decision to attend.

It’s hard to find an event that can truly have an impact on the way you think.

View the opportunity as a welcome pitstop on a journey, not as a life-defining decision.

Trade Conferences: Large companies like IBM concentrate on conferences that highlight their products, but they could be very valuable.

If these conferences are well executed, they can have great value if you view them through the right lense. I was at an IBM conference on Watson a few weeks ago, and while it was clear that the conference was designed to promote the use of IBM systems, it gave participants a window into who’s using these systems today, advanced development of the technology and its applications, and more.

When I gave a talk at a QlikView conference, I sat in on some of the other presentations and learned more in depth about the challenges QlikView foresees in the market. As long as you’re aware of the purpose of the conference and see the presentation accordingly, you can get a lot out of it, even when the motives are purely commercial.

Hope it helps.