Great Events vs. Bad Events

As we start attending in-person events, how to choose ones with the most upside?

Now that things are opening up and normalizing post-pandemic (at least in the US), what does this mean for events? Do we go back to in-person events and ditch Zoom conferences? Will things be totally back to the way things were before COVID shut down the world?

Last week I talked about the joy of meeting people again in person. They were small gatherings, but were still wildly exciting and energizing. It makes me hopeful that things do return to what we had been used to before. We are social creatures and those in-person connections matter so much for our well-being and the collaboration that spawns from those interactions.

Events are part of the life-blood of sales. Some events I attended helped me smash my revenue goals for the year just based on the people I met. But not all events are equal. What I realized after hundreds of hours of online events and conferences is just how wide the spectrum is between good and bad events.

So what actually constitutes a quality event that would be worth one’s time? 

We live increasingly busy lives where time is at a premium. How often do we find ourselves saying “I don’t have time for that” or “if I just had a bit more time”? That includes me, and so the day is always a constant balancing act between the plans for the day, competing priorities, and the occasional fire drills.

With free time becoming more limited as we emerge from the pandemic, it is even more important to spend that time wisely. In-person events get particular scrutiny as folks start scheduling more meetups, gatherings, and conferences. With a growing plethora of events in store, choosing what to attend can be challenging. I am already getting pinged multiple times a day about attending or speaking at this or that event.

That is why getting stuck at a bad event can be so frustrating. Unlike a virtual event that you can jump out of quickly, a bad in-person event eats your time in two ways; the time lost traveling to the event as well as the opportunity cost of not spending time on something more productive. To avoid this, I developed a method of categorizing events as “High Value” or “Low Value”.

It might be helpful to reiterate what is so important about events. I believe networking is strategic to your professional development. Just as you would study or train to build up your skills, networking is a way of generating social capital and expanding your influence. You can have incredible skills, but without a network, few will ever notice because no one is around to see all that you accomplish. That was the revolution of social networking, the allure of reality TV, and the power behind great events.

In order to find those great events, it is useful to have some guidelines to help us choose what events to attend. Here is how I view "High Value" and "Low Value" events:

  • High Value Events have all the factors that one looks for in a quality event. The crowd is made up of peers, there is engaging and thought-provoking discussion, and the vibe is energetic. You come away from such an event learning something valuable and meeting people that you would want to stay in touch with. Some of the best connections you can make in your career can come from attending High Value Events.

  • Low Value Events are the types of events that immediately have you thinking you made a huge mistake. Whether it is the odd grouping of people, the lack of focus of the event or the poor choice of venue, the only thing you can think of is your escape. You come away from such an experience feeling cheated with nothing gained other than the opportunity to send out a lot of snarky tweets.

When you attend a High Value event, you place yourself in an environment that exponentially creates opportunities. Think of events like TED or Davos, where you are not only listening to thought-provoking content, but you are engaged in stimulating conversations with people that are changing the world. Sometimes these conversations lead to collaboration, business deals, or partnerships that change the entire course of your life.

It is said that people make their own luck. Quoting Seneca, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” High Value events are the platform for the type of serendipity that connects your preparation (all of your skills and knowledge and experience) with a room full of opportunity. Just as Rand Fishkin, CEO of Moz, shares, many of your best relationships will come out of events, the type of contacts that positively influence your future.


In order to avoid getting caught in the vortex of awful events, use the following criteria to identity the types of events that place you in environments with exponential upside:

  • Why attend – You should have some purpose in taking time out of your day, whether it is to learn more about some topic, to meet new people in your industry, catch up with key contacts in your network, etc. Don’t just attend an event for the sake of attending or because a few friends are also attending.

  • What’s the agenda, topics and speakers – Is the topic of interest and the agenda sensible? Sometimes the topic sounds interesting, but you should dig into the details to ensure that the agenda and speakers match up to the promise of the topic. Note that sometimes the topic might not be of interest, but ultimately it is great speakers that draw a quality crowd for networking purposes.

  • Who’s organizing the event – Much can be learned by doing some cursory checking of the person or organization that is hosting the event. If they have a solid reputation and have hosted such events in the past with success, then chances are the event will be worthwhile.

  • Is the event open or exclusive – An open event is not a bad thing as you have the opportunity to meet new people outside of your network. The advantage of an invite only event is that it tends to be more exclusive, with an attendee list that is curated by the event organizers to be more relevant and targeted. Some straddle the fence by using “gating” tactics such as charging fees or targeting a specific niche to ensure attendees are legitimate.

  • What is the size of the community – A large community increases the diversity of people and ideas, but also can get unwieldy to manage and maintain focus. A small community is more targeted and generally has people that are more of like-mind and purpose, but if it is too small then the events are going to be poorly attended.

  • How many people are attending – Large events can be fun, but can also be chaotic. In an event with hundreds of people, it is hard to know how to navigate the crowd and who you might want to talk to. Mid-sized events that are around 30 to 70 people are a good size for facilitating conversation and interactivity, and you have a realistic chance of meeting and talking to most of the other attendees. The tipping point is around 100 people, and then the quality of interaction tends to plummet quickly.

  • Paid admittance or free – If an event is paid and they are still getting strong attendance, then you know that people value the event and that attendance will be strong. With a free event, you can never be sure how many people will actually bother to attend.

  • Who else is going – Event organizing sites like Meetup, Eventbrite, etc. as well as social network sites like Facebook and LinkedIn sometimes allow you to see who else is attending. If there are people that you really want to meet that are attending a certain event, that might itself make the event worthwhile to attend.

  • Is it only for networking - Networking is important, but should not be the exclusive purpose of the event. Most networking events tend to attract the type of people that are all about networking for the sake of networking. Unless it is a very tight-knit and exclusive community, general networking events are simply lousy experiences.

  • Other red flags – Some events scream “Low Value”. Be careful of events with gimmicks like “speed-dating” or contests, charging a high cost of entry, incessantly send spammy requests by organizers and attendees, or make audacious claims that guarantee you will find the perfect co-founder, achieve inner peace, or acquire massive wealth.

Using these criteria may not save you from attending the occasional dud of an event, but you will save yourself a lot of agony and frustration in the future. You will be much more focused on attending worthwhile events that give you the opportunity to tap into the exponential upside of great events.

I know I mentioned that I would talk about sales technologies of the future, but will get to that next week. If you have thoughts on sales tech trends, things you have seen (or are building), or know of others building the next generation of sales tools, please let me know so I can include it in the next newsletter!

Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum

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