Choosing a Professional Development Conference

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  • March 25, 2016
  • Kris Johnston

Here at INK we are lucky enough to work in an environment that encourages and promotes ongoing personal and professional development. Professional development activities – whether attending a conference or trying out a new class – are crucial for keeping a pace on the changing industry and learning new skills. It’s even a reason to step out of your comfort zone and discover how to think about things in new and interesting ways or from different perspectives altogether.

That being said, there are a plethora of conferences and events dedicated to creative types: PR, media, digital, design, and the list goes on and on. Choosing a conference can be daunting – you want to maximize your time and dollars, and ensure that ultimately, it’s not a wasted effort.

So, how do you know what conference is right for you?

Based on our experiences as INKers, here are a few tried and true tips and tricks for nailing down that conference that is ultimately suited to your own professional growth path:

~ Examine what others are saying. Look at years past events – who do they have in attendance? What were the session topics? Search Twitter and Facebook to find out what others were posting about and/or saying post conference. Word of mouth goes a long way.

~ Speakers! Who do they have keynoting, or who keynoted in the past? Are they no-names, are they well regarded? Digging a bit into the caliber of speakers and the topics they’ll be speaking to is an easy and quick way to determine if consistent themes throughout the conference are of interest.

~ Topics/Sessions are key. Do the topics get you excited and catch your attention? Do you look forward to going to the session/s? If so, that’s a pretty sure guarantee the focus of the discussions, and overall conference, would be worth your while. Shelley here at INK also says “I look for very specific panel topics that require some insight into the topic to understand (The IoT Explained vs How to Grow ROI for Applications within the IoT – one of those is going to be more detailed and more useful to someone looking to get more than the big picture) and, I go to completely random things that I don’t know a damn thing about. One of my favorite panels this year involved Bun B talking about the history of Southern rap and the racial history of college sports.”

~ Location. Location. Where is the event held? Pay attention to the surroundings. Highly regarded events are going to be held in key cities around the country, or world for that matter. But beware, with that ultimate location also sometimes comes a high price. It can be a trade off.

~ Relevancy. According to INKer Helen, “when selecting a conference, I usually try to go with something that is relevant to my clients. For example, a couple of years ago, I attended Stratosphere in New York and learned loads about big data. Just yesterday I spent the morning at a tech security conference in Houston where I learned about new and emerging ways to protect everything from IT infrastructures in the cloud to company intellectual property. I come back from these conferences with new ideas for content, media pitches, bylines and more for my accounts and also get the added benefit of meeting influencers in the industry.”

Here are also a few of our favorite professional development conferences/activities from us at INK:

SXSW – “I know it’s a fast answer for Austinites, but SXSW’s massive conference/festival is a dream for exploring new topics, networking, sampling the latest tech crazes, and giving the illusions that you (if only temporarily) have touched the center of pop culture. The multi-day festival brings thousands and thousands of people into our backyard. I’ve had the pleasure of attending Interactive for the past three years, including as a session coordinator. After the blissful, exhausting wonder of remarkable keynotes, workshops, sessions, and late night networking sessions over milkshakes, I feel like I’m at my best. I want to share my knowledge with clients and colleagues. My phone is near capacity with new apps to sample. I’m following up with brilliant, hungry new contacts. Held in March, I feel like SX sets the stage for an amazing year ahead. It’s set my bar so high, I’m struggling to find another conference that compares and leaves me soaring on cloud nine for months.” – Cassie

PR Measurement Conference – “The conference was a really great experience because it gave me the opportunity to learn from other organizations (Goodwill was my favorite) which had some struggles with measurement and their solutions were enlightening and applicable. I left the conference having an entire new perspective on the measurement reports we provide our clients with. I wanted to expand my knowledge and be able to share my learnings with the team – and that was certainly the result.” – Allyson

99U Conference – “The 99U Conference gets me excited because it’s goal is to shift the focus from idea generation to idea execution. While I haven’t yet attended, I’m looking forward to this year’s event in May and hearing from brands such as The New Yorker on how they have to dream up fresh ideas every week under looming deadlines and endless competition. Which, let’s face it, a lot of the times exactly what we have to do on a day-to-day basis at INK. My goal from the conference will be to bring back fresh and unique perspectives to my teams at INK and help us better execute on our creative client ideas.” – Me

Circles Conference – “They did an excellent job of picking speakers who were not only funny and talented, but they had great stories of how they had gotten to where they are today. It was eye-opening to see different avenues of success–one presenter just took a blind leap into freelance writing, for example, while another realized his graphic designs of wrestlers could be templated into other characters, creating both a recognizable brand and saving him time to be more efficient in his business. Really enjoyed it, and looking forward to attending Lines, a sister conference focused on writing and social media, this year!” – Joey

INK – “My favorite professional development activities are the ones that happen within INK – whether it’s INKUs or the spontaneous learning opportunities that happen from just checking in with the social media folks on what’s the latest going on there or hearing about other media pitching experiences that have happened. We often think we have to look outside to grow and learn, but we have a ton of really smart people with really unique experience and expertise. We should definitely learn from each other more – and it doesn’t have to be in a formal teaching setting. We should be asking each other more questions or just talking to each other about what their thoughts are on such and such.” – Candice

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