Ugh, Can I Just Not Go (to Conferences)

by | Apr 2, 2024 | shitposts | 0 comments

Like clockwork, professionals flock to conferences every year, enticed by the siren song of networking and the lure of industry insights. Yet, time and again, we show up and meet an all-too-familiar scene: a barrage of sales pitches thinly veiled as presentations and “networking opportunities” that often feel more like speed dating for professionals.

Not to be pointed, but as I attended Adobe Summit (digitally) the other week, what unfolded was an onslaught of relentless product promotion, where each session and keynote served as sales pitches rather than knowledge building for digital marketing. It’s mostly my fault, as this isn’t my first time attending Summit, but you just want to see how the industry is moving, not the next cool workflow in Marketo or Adobe Experience Cloud.

To be fair, it’s not just Adobe. Other conferences I’ve attended, from The Financial Brand Forum to the ABA Marketing Conference, the pattern repeats: pay to attend, spend the time listening to sales pitches.

I can’t help but question the return on investment. The monetary and time-wise costs are steep, and the yield is often disappointing. It’s like buying a ticket to an art exhibit only to find the walls plastered with advertisements. Not even good ones, just those old GoDaddy commercials.

Yet, there are moments of redemption. Occasionally, a speaker transcends the commercial clamor, offering a sliver of the promised insight. These instances are memorable, not for their rarity but for their ability to cut through the din, offering a glimpse into what conferences could be if the focus shifted back to genuine knowledge sharing. It’s like when you accidentally sign up for an adjunct professor in college who actually engages in the topic they’re educating. Refreshing.

Networking, the purported crown jewel of the conference experience, similarly teeters on a fine line between valuable connection and mere transaction. Genuine interactions do occur, but they navigate a minefield of ulterior motives, with each exchange shadowed by the silent question: “What can you do for me?” And some of those interactions, like fine dining with vendors, just feel… icky?

These mixed experiences set the stage for a revelation I had while learning marketing automation from HubSpot Academy’s free online courses. Here, in stark contrast to Hubspot’s own Inbound Conference, is a bastion of focused, actionable learning – absent of the shadow of salesmanship. An excellent example of what’s possible when the primary focus is to educate, not to sell.

This juxtaposition between the often disappointing reality of conferences and the straightforward value of online learning casts a sharp light on the evolving professional development landscape. Why pay for travel, hotels, food and an over-hyped conference when you can learn as much or more… on YouTube….

So, what’s the path forward? For me, it involves a more discerning approach to conference selection, seeking out those rare events prioritizing substance over spectacle. Think SXSW over Salesforce’s Dreamforce. Valuing online learning platforms like HubSpot Academy, LinkedIn Learning and SkillShare, where upskilling isn’t overshadowed by a bunch of pushy salesmen.

The choice seems clear. Embrace the evolving landscape of learning, where value is measured not by the size of the crowd or the glitz of the venue but by the relevance and applicability of the content. I want to spend my time enhancing my skillset, not collecting business cards like wild Pokemon.

In the end, perhaps the future of conferences isn’t a question of format (virtual or in-person) but of intent. I remain hopeful for a shift toward authenticity, where the primary currency is knowledge, and the main transaction is learning. Until that day, I’ll stay skeptical and pessimistic about the value of traditional conferences.

I think I may not be alone in this. Am I crazy?

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