Deciding which industry conferences to attend

Ah … it must be fall.

Not only are the leaves falling, but my inbox is filled with details about must-attend conferences promising to move my business to the next level.

Maybe it happens in all industries. Certainly the entertainment industry has so many must-attend events. We’ve just seen Venice Film Festival and TIFF – always a big favourite before Berlin and Sundance.

And they all cost money. Money that’s coming directly out of your cash flow. The admission fee is just the beginning. Then there’s accommodation – usually at higher-than-seasonal rates, air fare, meals and those expensive cocktails that show up on your credit card a month later.

We’ve all heard about (and some of us have partaken) the $20 glass of house wine in Cannes! For a small business owner or filmmaker that comes out of your pocket – money you might have put towards a much needed vacation.

Obviously, you have business and project priorities so the better prepared you are, the more chance you have of getting a return on your investment. The conferences and the seminars you attend should all be framed around what’s most pressing in your business.

So how do you decide which conference is going to work for you and where to put your cash?

How can I move my project to the next level?

For most of us, this is the crucial question since we usually need to meet the financiers, or people with the dollars to invest in our projects.

Which event gets me up close and personal with the people who can best do this for me? This may mean researching to find out how many roundtable sessions there are with decision makers, or how many opportunities there are to informally meet people at breakfasts and networking events.

How big an event do I want?  

The massive trade shows like MIP or NATPE  have been usurped by more niche events like Kidscreen, Power to the Pixel and Cartoon Forum.

Those events are very focused and specific to their respective market segments. They offer more intimate settings than massive conference halls and provide more ways to get close to the decision makers. These kinds of events are specifically helpful for people just breaking into the business.

The large festivals and events – the classics such as Cannes and MIPCOM and, increasingly, Comic-Con – usually attract big decision makers: producers, financiers, distributors and agencies.

Who’s speaking?

This is what I love at the large international events – the opportunity to be inspired and learn about new entertainment and media trends or new business models in Israel or Sweden among others.

While you want to know who the speakers are and what they’ll cover (to help with your business problems) you need to also consider speakers’ style.

Some headliners have accomplished great things, written best sellers and designed multi-million dollar programs for their clients. Then they get on stage and bore you to tears. This can ruin an experience – and greatly lessen what knowledge you retain.

A quick YouTube search usually brings up previous videos to help you see if the speakers you’re excited about are all they’re cracked up to be.

Who’s going?

Over the years, I’ve noticed I get more out of my interactions with fellow conference attendees than I do speakers.

It’s in the informal encounters – over drinks at the end of the day, or coffees in the morning – that valuable business connections are often made.

If you’re going to spend money going to these conference and festivals, be prepared and make the most of your time.

FOCUS. PITCH. SELL.

Work with me for five sessions to clarify your logline, create striking visual materials, and make your pitch extraordinary and memorable. Plus get a free copy of my book – From Start to Screen.

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