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Phoenix Forward

7 tips for choosing the right business conference

Not all conferences are created equal

“Attending business conferences can really help propel your career,” says Tony Di Gaetano, lead faculty and area chair for the University of Phoenix MBA program. “The key is finding the right one, and for the right price.” Here, seven tips for choosing the best conference:

Know your budget.

In today’s era of tight expense budgets, a conference’s cost and location can either attract or deter attendance, according to Di Gaetano, who spent nearly 30 years in human resources management for UPS and other companies.

“Registration fees for events in major cities can cost upward of $5,000, plus the cost of airfare, hotel and incidentals,” he says. “That’s not always feasible.” If your company’s budget is tight, look into what conferences are available in your local area, or search for those held in smaller cities, Di Gaetano advises.

Ask for recommendations.

If you’re unsure which conferences provide the best professional development opportunities, ask senior-level colleagues for recommendations. “Or tag along when your boss attends a conference,” Di Gaetano suggests.

Pick the right format.

“One of my biggest pet peeves is conferences that have back-to-back lectures for eight hours straight without a break,” says Akilah Bradford, a human resources manager for a boutique hotel in Chicago and an instructor and area chair in the MBA program. “You should always pick a conference that includes breakout sessions and some unstructured networking time; otherwise you’ll get burned out.”

Evaluate the quality of speakers.

What sets one conference apart from another is the quality of the keynote speaker, according to Di Gaetano. “Read the speakers’ bios in the conference materials,” he says. “Have you ever heard of these people? What other conferences have featured them? If you aren’t impressed, steer clear.”

Be flexible.

If the full conference fee is too costly or you can’t get away from the office for more than a day or two, you can still attend a portion of a conference. “Many weeklong conferences give you the choice of attending for a single day — or even for a single workshop — at a reduced price,” Bradford notes. “That way, you can choose what individual programs on the agenda are most interesting to you.”

Opt for virtual conferences.

Di Gaetano recommends exploring nontraditional conference formats, such as focused webinars, Skype™-based speaker presentations and the like. “Virtual conferences are a new trend, and they give you many of the same benefits of an in-person conference from the comfort of your desk.”

Get a return on your conference investment.

Good conferences enrich your professional knowledge in addition to providing networking opportunities, according to Bradford. “The key is choosing one that teaches me something I don’t already know, which will also help save my company money in the long run.”


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