I found both conferences energizing, interesting and super exciting. And I only saw two key note speeches and one session across both events combined.
Since we were sponsors at both events, my primary responsibility was at our booth speaking with potential customers. Needless to say I didn't get out much to participate and attend the sessions. Then what was so exciting and interesting?
First of all, even after spending over 20 years in business development, I love talking to the people from the companies/brands attending these conferences. It is fascinating and fun to learn about their businesses and their specific needs, challenges and goals.
It is energizing to hear about their evolving businesses and how they are tackling challenges and how they serve their customers. There are A LOT of super smart and dedicated people out there.
The other key reason for my excitement was all the sponsors and vendors. I spoke to many of them while on the sponsorship floor to learn more about what they do. Many of these are young innovative companies like ours that are working to solve an industry challenge with their product or service. Or established companies with fantastic new products and/or services to offer.
These companies are the future and the "cutting edge". Some are even destined to fundamentally change how we do things in a very productive and positive way. I had more than one company tell me they learned more from speaking with the sponsors and vendors than they did from the speakers and sessions!
It was exciting to learn so much about the breadth of amazing tools and services available from companies like Act-On, Content Launch, DivvyHQ, Ektron, Kapost, Newscred, Oktopost, Silverpop, Trapit, Uberflip, Widen and many others. All of them offer innovative, interesting, exciting and useful ways to help brands serve their business and customers better.
The truth is there is a lot to learn from the speakers and sessions AND there's also a ton to learn by taking the time to walk the sponsorship floor and speak with as many of these sponsors/vendors as you can.
What I found disappointing through all of this is that only a very small percentage of conference attendees took the time to really explore the sponsor floor. Or they only visited the vendors they knew about or work with already.
I think there are legitimate reasons for this conference sponsorship reality. Some of them include attendees lack of time due to the desire to absorb as much information at as many sessions as possible, sheer information overload, the fear of "being sold to" and the concern about having tons of companies contact you post conference.
I get it, nobody likes the idea of "being sold to" and we all certainly get more email than we can possibly handle already. Just keep in mind two things: 1) no one can sell you anything you don't want or need and 2) the delete button is quite handy!
There's just so much exciting stuff going on and so much innovation that it's a shame not to capitalize on the opportunity to learn more about it.
My #1 take-away is that it is 100% worthwhile to attend and participate in as many sessions and key note speeches as you can. It is also worth your time, effort and attention to speak to as many of the sponsors and vendors as you can.
Not only will you learn a lot about the "cutting edge" of new available resources and tools (and potentially enjoy some great candy) you may even come across one or two that will help you solve a sticky challenge and help you move your business forward.