I've been working for myself since I was 19 and used to attend events/conferences regularly during the early years. But I always felt shy and awkward and never actually befriended people at these events. I essentially threw away money to attend and didn't get any return on investment (monetary or otherwise). Most of what I do isn't about the money, but if I wasn't even building friendships at these conferences, what was the point?
These days when I attend a conference it's 99% hanging out with friends or meeting new friends and maybe 1% business. I focus on the 99% and the 1% happens mostly organically. I don't have any solid goals going into these events other than a general "have a good time and learn from people far more intelligent than myself."
I spent the past weekend at a conference and, as they can be, it was a wonderful time. It was actually the only conference I've been to where I actually went to all the sessions/speeches. (Chris never does anything haphazardly.)
But conferences aren't good for a lot of people. Here are 7 reasons they might not be right for you:
1) You haven't created anything.
If you haven't created anything then it's difficult to get respect. Without respect you won't be on a level playing field with other attendees. If you're not on a level playing field you're not in the game. As much as it sucks every industry has cliques and groups who help each other out. It's not a lost cause. You can join in on these groups. The barrier to entry is creating something. You get instant respect as a doer.
2) You're socially awkward.
I know what this is like because it's how I was in my early years of attending conferences. I was afraid to talk to people and felt awkward, so I didn't have a good time or make any connections, personal or otherwise. You can get past this, but it's better to do so before spending the thousands of dollars it may cost to attend a conference.
3) You're a fanboy.
Listen, I know some of the speakers and attendees at conferences are rock stars. They're successful, well-known, and you love what they do. That's cool. But when you treat someone like a god you put yourself on a lower rung of the ladder. I'm not saying complementing them or telling them they've affected your life isn't good. (It's great!) But there is a line where it gets creepy or awkward. If you don't know where that line is then you're going to come away from these events disappointed because instead of building relationships (or planting the seeds for a relationship), you'll forever be seen as a fanboy. If you've done this to someone don't worry, so have I. It was an important lesson for me. These amazing people are just people and most of them want to be treated as such.
BTW, I absolutely love when somebody tells me they read my work or they loved an article or something else I've created. That is not at all what I mean about being creepy/awkward. What I mean is relentless fawning. The remedy is simple: be cool.
4) You're not prepared to go full-on for 2-3 days.
When I was younger I used to have a saying, "sleep is for the weak." I never actually believed that, but sometimes I make it my mantra. There is a lot going on during conferences and a lot of great things happen after hours. There isn't a single night this past weekend that I didn't come home before 2am or wake up after 7am. Long term this isn't a healthy lifestyle, but for a weekend it's necessary. Tip: drink 90% water / 10% whatever else.
5) You're focused on quantity instead of quality.
There are some people who attend these events to meet everybody and as a result they really meet nobody. It's much better to develop one friendship than a hundred acquaintanceships (new word?). You won't hit it off with everybody and that's OK. You might not hit it off with someone you thought you'd hit it off with based on previous interactions online. That's OK too. But jumping around from one person to the next is an utter waste of time.
Additionally, when you're speaking with someone don't constantly look around the room for someone "better" to talk to. It's rude and disrespectful. We're all guilty of this sometimes, of course, but better if the majority of your interactions are focused on the person/persons you're chatting with. There is good in all people, and even if you're not hitting it off with someone it doesn't mean you can't give them at least a few minutes of your time.
6) You don't follow up.
I'm pretty bad at this, but I've been getting better. When you meet someone you connect with or someone who you appreciated in some way be sure to follow up. A simple "thank you" is a great start, but you can take it further if you feel that it fits. Sometimes the conscious follow up isn't necessary at all because you've built an instant friendship. It's great when this happens, but when it doesn't that doesn't mean there is no possibility for a friendship in the future.
7) You feel like you have to be there instead of want to be there.
I used to attend conferences because I felt like I had to. "So many people are going to be there! I need to be there as well or I'm going to miss out on so much!" For the most part, that's not true. Nowadays I don't attend every conference I could. I attend the events that I truly want to attend.
Bonus: You hand out business cards to people who don't ask.
In the words of Mitch Hedberg, what you're "saying" when you do this is "here, you throw this away." When someone asks for a business card give them one. Otherwise, don't.
Although I took this from a "why you shouldn't" stance, there are dozens of reasons you should. If you've attended a live event before it would be cool if you shared your best tip or reason for attending in the comments below ...