Attending business conferences and conventions is a great way to build and nurture relationships, keep up with current trends within your industry and generate new sales.  It can also be a drain on your bottom line. In addition to the actual cost of the event, you’ll also have to pay for hotel accommodations, transportation, meals and miscellaneous expenses that inevitably arise.

If your business is also an exhibitor or sponsor of the event, you’re also looking at signage, display and promotional materials and potentially electrical utilities fees.  The costs can quickly add up.

Figuring the actual cost of attending or participating in a conference or convention can be a little tricky but it’s definitely worth the trouble. In addition to providing a framework for calculating your ROI, it can also motivate you to make the most of your time and energies while in attendance.

Before spending your hard earned money on a convention or conference, ask yourself these questions:

Why this event and why now?

One reason many business people fail to make the most of their conference and convention attendances is that they simply decide to attend before deciding if the timing is right for them. Although such industry events are highly touted as “once in a lifetime opportunities”, the fact is most industry conferences and conventions are annual or even quarterly events.

Instead of reserving your table or booth for fear that you’ll miss the boat altogether, find out when and perhaps more importantly where the next event will be held. The next one may be planned for a more convenient and less costly location – maybe even your own hometown.

Does bigger mean better?

Depending on your industry and where your company fits into that industry, you might have more success attending smaller events.  The National Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention is an example of a situation where bigger definitely is better in that it provides one central location for attendees to actually get their hands on the latest in broadcasting equipment from nearly every player in the industry.

Most conferences, however, are more about the exchange of ideas and information than the display of hardware. Information can be presented equally well in smaller, more intimate venues which typically provide more opportunity for networking.

Do you have a Game Plan?

Most business people see conventions and conferences as great opportunities to build new relationships with vendors, partners and customers. The businesses that benefit most from such events are the ones that plan ahead.  They have an agenda and they stick with it.

They also realize that the real benefit of conventions and conferences is dependent on what they do with their new contacts once the event is over.  Don’t get so distracted playing catch up after a few days out of the office that you neglect those all-important follow up emails and phone calls that can cement your new business relationships.

Remember that you can save hundreds if not thousands of dollars in event tickets, airfare and hotel accommodations by planning ahead.  Don’t wait until the last day of the “early bird special” to reserve your conference tickets or you may find yourself paying top dollar for everything else.

Finally, schedule your time and stick to the schedule.  Decide which speakers you want to hear, which product demonstrations you want to see and which networking opportunities you want to attend. Without a firm schedule, you run the risk of wasting valuable time.