6 Tips to make the most
out of conferences

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of conferences aimed at small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) being run in the UK every year, with even more abroad.

Attending the right ones for your business offers opportunities to expand your business network, explore new business partnerships and generate new leads. However, many SMEs are reluctant to dedicate time to attend them, often citing that they are a waste of time and money.

Understandably, the numerous elements of running your business take priority over attending a conference, but they can open doors for your business. For a day or two, set aside the marketing campaign, the P&L and the recruitment process, and focus on building your business.

Not only will you be able to look to the future and how your industry is changing, but it can help overcome the isolation of being an SME owner. The truth is, running a small business can be all-consuming and can make you feel that you're "on your own." Attending relevant SME-focused conferences and networking events can widen your perspective and help you engage with other people who are in the same position.

So, how do you make the most of your next conference?

Besides packing a healthy wad of business cards, here are Flight Centre Business Travel's tips on how SMEs can make their next conference a success.

1. Choose the right conference

Choosing the right conferences to attend extends beyond targeting industry-specific events. While it might be tempting to hop on a plane to an exotic destination for a week-long niche conference, make sure you do your research first. Visit the conference website to see who’ll be speaking and assess whether the conference will address your specific needs.

It may well be more relevant for you to attend a local 2-day event. You’ll reduce your travel investment by travelling on domestic flights or rail and keep time out of the office to a minimum.

2. Maximise your time away

If you need to splurge on accommodation and flights to attend a conference at a far-flung destination, make sure you make the most of your expenses. Set up business meetings with clients at the event or shortly after, so you won’t need to travel to the destination again in quick succession.

If you don’t have any clients located near the event, it’s the perfect opportunity to start engaging with new businesses. Visit the conference website and social media channels to begin the conversation. Use the event’s official hashtag to begin engaging with other attendees and set up meetings with potential new clients. 

3. Choose the best flights for your specific needs

While focusing on buying the cheapest flights to your conference may be tempting, it may not be your best travel solution. Choosing a direct flight over one that stops off en-route may be more expensive, but it’s likely to keep you out of the office longer. You can fly into a destination on an early morning flight in time for the event, ideal if you're travelling to Europe, and leave directly after it in the evening. While the flight price itself may be marginally higher, you can save on hotel costs before and after the event.

It’s also worth considering a business class flight when you would typically book an economy seat. Having the option to sleep on a lie-flat bed while travelling to your destination can leave you refreshed and ready for meetings shortly after touch down. This is particularly useful on over-night flights when you go straight to the airport from the office.

4. Choose your hotel wisely

It’s all about location, location, location. Rely on your dedicated travel expert to advise you on the best hotel near the event you’re attending. You’ll save time and money as you won't have to commute to and from the venue. By staying in a hotel near the conference venue, you'll also have more opportunities to network with other delegates and make essential connections.

Be sure that the technology options you need, such a free internet and meeting spaces, are available in your hotel. You may also want to have a dedicated space, either in your room or at the hotel’s business centre, where you can keep abreast with all the happenings at the office.

5. Share your findings with your team

How many people need to attend the conference? While it may be appealing to take more than one person to an event, first establish whether it’s essential. If the event is unusually large and has too many seminars for a single visitor to attend, it may be worth having more team members there. However, if one person can facilitate all the meetings and events it’s best to keep investments lower and share the knowledge on your return.

Collaboration has become infinitely more accessible as technology has developed. You can host daily catch-up via video calls to give a download of the day’s events or have a conference catch-up on your return.

6. Evaluate your investment

At the end of the conference, take time to evaluate whether the financial investment and time commitment were worth it.  Would you recommend the conference to a colleague? Would you attend again?

Over time, understanding the value gained versus the investment made will help you decide on which types of conferences and events are most beneficial to your business.

Choosing the right SME conference for your business is up to you, but Flight Centre Business Travel is on hand to help make your travel to these events simple. Our travel experts can advise you on the best flight options, which hotels offer the most convenient location and facilities and recommendations on how to make the most of your destination.