leadership, Marketing, Travel & Tourism

Picking the right conference to learn the most and make the best connections

By William Bakker | 01.28.14 | 4 Comments

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My past (red) and upcoming (green) speaking gigs

I’ve spoken at dozens of conferences and attended dozens more. I’ve been to really good ones, I’ve been to bad ones and I’ve been to some where it was all about the money. We (at Think!) also run our SoMeT conference in the US, Australia and Europe.

Here are my guidelines for picking the right conference:

  1. Find your peers: the best part of a conference is often the networking. Find conferences where you can connect or reconnect. I remember that from my DMO days. SoMeT, for example, offers more of a community and the conference also serves as a yearly reunion of friends. So ask around, see what your peers will be attending.
  2. No sales pitches: too many conferences sell presentations, and you’ll end up listening to sales pitches. Avoid conferences where (too many) speakers are also sponsors.
  3. Look for DMO (or non-vendor) speakers: These people have nothing to sell to you. And case studies are typically the way to learn. The nice thing about our industry is that people share a lot of learning with each other.
  4. Find presenters you like, don’t look at the title of the presentation: Conference organizers will often make up titles without the presenters’ knowledge. Look for speakers you know and respect. Research the keynote speaker’s blog and see what they’ve posted on Slideshare.
  5. Avoid too many panels: Panels are hard to pull off. You need a good moderator and engaging panelists. It’s rare when it happens. People are too nice and polite. When I’m on a panel, I make a point of trying to stir things up for that very reason.

Based on the guidelines above, I also design my presentations and avoid any direct sales pitches for Think! I share what I know and what I’ve learned – which is just what I like to see from a presenter. I always, always worry about giving people enough value, not the amount of business cards I collect.

That’s also how we run our SoMeT conferences. We make sure there are plenty of networking opportunities, we don’t sell speaker slots, we invite tons of leading DMOs from around the world to speak and use panels sporadically.

If I had one conference I could attend a year, I would attend a digital tourism conference that follow my rules above.

If I could attend two, I would pick one outside the tourism industry on a specialized topic. So not SXSW for example. I would pick a conference specific to word-of-mouth marketing, social media, UX design, service design, gamification, content marketing, SEO/SEM, etc.

Hope to see you out there soon.