Conferences can be incredibly valuable.  Whether it is the networking opportunities they provide, the content they showcase, the user community of which you can be a part, or the access to new ideas before they are available to the public, each and every conference has its selling point.  Here are some fantastic ones focused on sports business that occur on an annual basis:

Those are just a sample focused mainly on sports and entertainment, but there are hundreds of other worthwhile conferences out there specifically focused on CRM, marketing, analytics, data, and the like that would be incredibly valuable to sports and entertainment properties and brands as well.

Many sports business executives are unable to find either the time and/or the funds to attend every conference they find interesting, so they end up choosing the one or two that will provide the biggest return on their objectives (or investment), whether that is maintaining current relationships with businesses and clients at the conference, looking for new business, or keeping up with industry developments and happenings.  Given this ceiling on the number of conferences most people can reasonably expect to attend, the good news is that there are ways that you can still get value out of the conferences that are on your list without actually making the trip to the event.

With a little technology, a little sleuthing, and a little persistence, it is easier than ever to feel like you attended without giving up three or four days to make it happen.  Here are some steps in order to get the most out of a conference from your work desk or home office:

  • Go to the conference website, where you can find information on the people who will be speaking as well as the agenda for the conference.  This is an easy way to get an overview of main subjects covered and who the prominent panelists are. On the agenda, some conferences feature summaries that go into a bit of detail on what each panel will discuss.  While they don’t divulge all the talking points, reading these summaries is a great way to get a better idea of the focus of each panel or session.  (Plus, how else would you learn that “Drones and Sports” is a real topic of intellectual conversation? Thanks, SXSW!)
  • Once the conference starts, follow along on Twitter.  Just about every conference out there now has a Twitter hashtag associated with the conference.  If you follow the hashtag during the event, you’ll see what’s trending, what’s being talked about, and how others are viewing those topics.  Moreover, since every conference has multiple sessions at a time, Twitter can sometimes be an even more effective way to stay on top of the issues vs. actually attending in person.  Conference attendees are really good about tweeting out quotes and pictures.  If you can find a reporter covering the event, even better.
  • Some conferences broadcast certain sessions via the web, so check to see if your conference of interest has done that in years past or plans to this year—it could be an easy way to sit in on some great sessions.
  • Other conferences, like Sloan, will post videos of past conferences online.  If you are able to wait a bit, you can still attend the 2013 Sloan conference, and eventually the 2014 one.  Check around and see if your conference does any video archiving that will give you access to the content presented after the event.

The above notwithstanding, though, we don’t think you should completely give up attending conferences in person. There definitely can be drawbacks to “virtual” attendance, specifically:

  • You don’t truly get to partake in the networking, which is why many people attend conferences in the first place.  It’s impossible to replicate the business opportunities that come from in-person networking from your desk.
  • Not all conferences will be open with their agenda beforehand, or will share access to their video archives after the event, so actually finding information and following along may be tougher for some conferences than others.

However, if your goal is to engage and learn to the best of your ability without necessarily attending a particular conference, the above steps will get you much further than was previously possible even a few years ago.

Have any other tips for making the most of “non-attendance attendance” at conferences?  We’d love to hear your thoughts below.