Does running a conference generate ROI?

Posted by Jo Kelly

Conferences bring people together to a central location with a particular agenda and a defined objective.

The purpose might be an annual company conference for employees or a customer conference to promote your messaging and products; it could be an opportunity to run team-building activities, facilitate networking and unite your workforce in mindset and approach.

Whatever the reason, conferences are proven to be a valuable and necessary asset to any business plan, regardless of the costs involved with getting them up and running.

Has technology replaced the need for conferences?

As technology advances and communication becomes easier, regardless of distance, the need for a conference might be called into question. We no longer rely on the phone to speak to long-distance colleagues or customers, there’s instant messaging, Skype, social media, teleconferencing and even telepresence.

It could be argued that these ever-advancing forms of communication have made the need for conferences obsolete. However, in reality none of these can make up for face-to-face interaction, over a prolonged period, in the presence of those you need to converse with.

Whilst company conferences will have a set agenda and business objectives to achieve, there will always be a social element to proceedings, be it over lunch, or in the evening if the conference spans two or more days. Often entertainment is included and delegates have the opportunity to enjoy some downtime together, during which they might compare notes and discuss the day’s events.

This is something that cannot be achieved using other means of communication. For example, once business is concluded via teleconference, the line is disconnected and everyone resumes their very separate lives. Time spent networking and relaxing together at a conference can be just as important as the formal, business-led part, as it leads to stronger relationships forming and informal debate and brainstorming taking place.

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Making the investment

Large or multinational corporations can benefit from conferences as an opportunity to bring together teams that never usually meet due to disparate office locations and constant long-distance communications.

Whilst a conference might be an expensive endeavour, it can be much more cost-effective to run a single, budgeted co-ordinated meeting like this, than constant smaller meetings where costs mount up and up. Budgets can also be well-managed and made to work hard with careful planning and expert advice, so that every element is selected to be relevant, but sensibly priced.

If your event is designed to be an informative offering for customers to fact-find, then you might also come up against the argument that all this information might be quicker and more easily accessible via a simple internet search.

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Of course the internet is a resource making information readily available, but this can be overwhelming and hard to identify what’s really relevant to your particular query. The opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with an expert in the relevant field is incomparable. Questions cannot immediately be answered via the web and vital facts can be easily missed if you don’t really know what you’re looking for. Plus, conferences might also offer the chance to get hands-on with a product, so that customers can experience for themselves how it works and whether it’s really right for them. Custom could be lost if this opportunity isn’t on offer.

Planning for ROI

If you’re investing in a conference, plan what kind of event you want to run and how you want people to interact. If you’re spending money on it, you want it to be worthwhile and to get the most out of your spend.

Offering presentations and workshops that delegates can register for, gives them an opportunity to plan their day, and a clear sense of what they have to gain. If you have a tangible product to launch or promote, creating a demo area is a must, to enable visitors to try it out first-hand and get familiar with any features and benefits. This should be manned by someone already familiar with the item, to answer any questions and to provide demonstrations.

Perhaps, if your conference is located in a notable city or destination, then laying on tours or excursions would add impact and make the event much more memorable.

Measuring the ROI of your conference is tricky, so it’s worth setting some objectives and goals before you start. Your results might not be monetarily measurable, but there are other factors that can be just as important.

Run a feedback form and ask delegates to rate how relevant and useful they found the conference. This can provide important data that will not only provide some benchmarks, but also some direction for your next event. For measurable target, perhaps decide in advance the registration numbers you want to achieve for presentations and workshops. Or how many people you’d like to see attending any demonstrations, to monitor engagement.

Management can also be tasked to observe the workforce in the days following, to see if new information is being put to use, or if new relationships have emerged to improve efficiencies.

Conferences can achieve a wide range of different objectives, some more measurable than others. As long as you’re clear on your targets and your budget, there is no reason why a conference shouldn’t be perfectly cost-effective and provide the ROI that you’re looking for.

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Jo has worked at CR Worldwide as Events Operations Director since 2004. She is responsible for scoping and delivering all types of events, for clients of all sizes, globally. She manages the division’s team who organise and execute award-winning events – ranging from one-off sales floor days, corporate hospitality events and incentive travel trips, to annual conferences and partner summits.