7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Attend Live Conferences


I’ve been working for myself since I was 19 and used to attend events/conferences regularly during the early years. But I always felt shy and awkward and never actually befriended people at these events. I essentially threw away money to attend and didn’t get any return on investment (monetary or otherwise). Most of what I do isn’t about the money, but if I wasn’t even building friendships at these conferences, what was the point?

These days when I attend a conference it’s 99% hanging out with friends or meeting new friends and maybe 1% business. I focus on the 99% and the 1% happens mostly organically. I don’t have any solid goals going into these events other than a general “have a good time and learn from people far more intelligent than myself.”

I spent the past weekend at a conference and, as they can be, it was a wonderful time. It was actually the only conference I’ve been to where I actually went to all the sessions/speeches. (Chris never does anything haphazardly.)

But conferences aren’t good for a lot of people. Here are 7 reasons they might not be right for you:

1) You haven’t created anything.

If you haven’t created anything then it’s difficult to get respect. Without respect you won’t be on a level playing field with other attendees. If you’re not on a level playing field you’re not in the game. As much as it sucks every industry has cliques and groups who help each other out. It’s not a lost cause. You can join in on these groups. The barrier to entry is creating something. You get instant respect as a doer.

2) You’re socially awkward.

I know what this is like because it’s how I was in my early years of attending conferences. I was afraid to talk to people and felt awkward, so I didn’t have a good time or make any connections, personal or otherwise. You can get past this, but it’s better to do so before spending the thousands of dollars it may cost to attend a conference.

3) You’re a fanboy.

Listen, I know some of the speakers and attendees at conferences are rock stars. They’re successful, well-known, and you love what they do. That’s cool. But when you treat someone like a god you put yourself on a lower rung of the ladder. I’m not saying complementing them or telling them they’ve affected your life isn’t good. (It’s great!) But there is a line where it gets creepy or awkward. If you don’t know where that line is then you’re going to come away from these events disappointed because instead of building relationships (or planting the seeds for a relationship), you’ll forever be seen as a fanboy. If you’ve done this to someone don’t worry, so have I. It was an important lesson for me. These amazing people are just people and most of them want to be treated as such.

BTW, I absolutely love when somebody tells me they read my work or they loved an article or something else I’ve created. That is not at all what I mean about being creepy/awkward. What I mean is relentless fawning. The remedy is simple: be cool.

4) You’re not prepared to go full-on for 2-3 days.

When I was younger I used to have a saying, “sleep is for the weak.” I never actually believed that, but sometimes I make it my mantra. There is a lot going on during conferences and a lot of great things happen after hours. There isn’t a single night this past weekend that I didn’t come home before 2am or wake up after 7am. Long term this isn’t a healthy lifestyle, but for a weekend it’s necessary. Tip: drink 90% water / 10% whatever else.

5) You’re focused on quantity instead of quality.

There are some people who attend these events to meet everybody and as a result they really meet nobody. It’s much better to develop one friendship than a hundred acquaintanceships (new word?). You won’t hit it off with everybody and that’s OK. You might not hit it off with someone you thought you’d hit it off with based on previous interactions online. That’s OK too. But jumping around from one person to the next is an utter waste of time.

Additionally, when you’re speaking with someone don’t constantly look around the room for someone “better” to talk to. It’s rude and disrespectful. We’re all guilty of this sometimes, of course, but better if the majority of your interactions are focused on the person/persons you’re chatting with. There is good in all people, and even if you’re not hitting it off with someone it doesn’t mean you can’t give them at least a few minutes of your time.

6) You don’t follow up.

I’m pretty bad at this, but I’ve been getting better. When you meet someone you connect with or someone who you appreciated in some way be sure to follow up. A simple “thank you” is a great start, but you can take it further if you feel that it fits. Sometimes the conscious follow up isn’t necessary at all because you’ve built an instant friendship. It’s great when this happens, but when it doesn’t that doesn’t mean there is no possibility for a friendship in the future.

7) You feel like you have to be there instead of want to be there.

I used to attend conferences because I felt like I had to. “So many people are going to be there! I need to be there as well or I’m going to miss out on so much!” For the most part, that’s not true. Nowadays I don’t attend every conference I could. I attend the events that I truly want to attend.

Bonus: You hand out business cards to people who don’t ask.

In the words of Mitch Hedberg, what you’re “saying” when you do this is “here, you throw this away.” When someone asks for a business card give them one. Otherwise, don’t.

Although I took this from a “why you shouldn’t” stance, there are dozens of reasons you should. If you’ve attended a live event before it would be cool if you shared your best tip or reason for attending in the comments below …


  1. HAHAHA… Simple remedy: Be cool!!! Nicely said Karol.

    I started attending conferences when I went to ASE the week after graduating college. I had NO idea what I was getting into. I had been doing some work online, but really I was looking for a learning opportunity and some new networking possibilities. So even though I broke your rule #1 (of not having created anything) I made the most out of it by being as transparent as possible. I was not trying to go around and act like a big shot, I just admittedly said, “I’m a Newb, looking to learn from the best”. The more honest you are the more organic the outcome for sure.

    Then for my second Affiliate Summit, I took Nick Reese’s advice, which is much like yours. Just focus on making close friends. Business will follow. My first time I met SO many awesome people, the follow up was just too overwhelming. After this one I have a few people that I still stay in contact with, and one is even the “news specialist” on my new podcast!!!

    Sorry for such a long comment, I’m just jealous everyone was at W.D.S. and I have not been to a conference in a while. After school though, I did attend 6 conferences in 5 months. Definitely overload because you end up taking too much information in, and not getting enough work out.

    Here is my one cool tip though: Making business cards that stand out. The first one is HAVE NO BUSINESS CARD. It is always impressive when someone can say at a conference, “no sorry I don’t do business cards”. This just shows how complacent they are in their projects, and are ONLY looking for people awesome enough to work with.

    Secondly, if you were more in my position, and pretty much desperate for good contacts, make a business card that stands OUT of the deck. My business partner and I made “business stars and hearts”. It looked like a 4 year old did them, we actually cut out hearts and stars and colored them pink and yellow with our contact info on them. They were corny as hell, but anyone who got them was super happy about it and DEFINITELY would NOT forget who we are… Actually I just found a pic of them…. Check it out http://www.facebook.com/SalG112?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=963391922752&set=t.5136910&type=1&theater If anyone wants to friend me it is totally fine, if you read this blog, you must be kick ass so Friend On!!!

    Thanks Karol for letting me take up all this space. Have a great week!

    • Nice business card Salvatore. :)

      I like your honest approach to meeting people. It’s actually refreshing when someone says something like “I’m a newb and looking to learn.” Of course, it also helps if they have some experience with creating. :)

  2. I think I’ve been to one conference before (yearly meeting for the American Psychiatric Association) and I went more for the information than the networking. I like the breakdown of 99% hanging out and 1% business talk. I just signed up for the early notification list for next year’s WDS so maybe I’ll get to practice my “being cool” skills then!

    @Salvatore – those business cards are hilarious… I might have to steal that idea from you :-)

  3. I’m a little jealous that I didn’t get to go to WDS. First because I’ve never been to Portland, and second because it would have been fun to meet up with folks in the real world. It’ll probably be on my hit list for next year though.

    I’ve done a lot of conferences and seminars in the past, but none focused on business networking (uh, think crystals, om chanting, and health food products kind of events). I always focus first on absorbing information from the speakers and second on having some great conversations.

    The biggest question I have for you Karol is did you have fun at WDS? And the second is, do you think it’s worth attending next year?


    • No need to be jealous. You can make it a point to meet people near where you live. I’m sure they’re out there! :)

      Yes, I had a blast. I think it would be great to attend next year. I’ll be in Poland (Euro 2012 is being hosted by Wroclaw during the tentative dates of next year’s WDS), but I’d probably go otherwise.

  4. Whenever two or more people are gathered together, many of the points outlined in your post will come into action. It’s a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where it’s in everyone’s interest to keep the show going. It comes down to the attendee: if she wants to see rockstars, or socialize until 2am, she had better go. But if she’s in need of instruction, or of coming into contact with specific people, she’d better make sure the conference will provide these for her or else she’ll pay the price of attending with an additional fee of disappointement. Courageous post Karol.

    • Asaf, great points. And I think it boils down to knowing what you want to get out of a conference and understanding how it will be worth your while.

  5. Hey Karol, this is my first time here. Thanks for the tips. You are reminding that “It’s all about relationships”–that’s my main takeaway. Connecting to people at a conference and everywhere else–nothing more important. I haven’t been a big conference guy, but am better equipped after reading this. Thanks!

  6. Karol,

    Sorry I didn’t get to meet you at WDS.

    I agree… I started shy and worked too hard. Now I don’t go to events unless they are fun and I can be myself. WDS was 500 people practicing what you wrote about – that was its secret.

    Maybe next year we will meet.

  7. I love conferences (i’m probably a bit biased as I took out a top prize at the Launch Conf). By nature I’m a shy guy, and so I don’t really do enough connecting with people. When I’m at a conference, I’m basically forced into communicating with others. For some conferences, I think its worth the expensive price tag just to be able to meet so many people – and hopefully someday I’ll be able to catch up with you Karol

    • I love them too, but that’s because I don’t go to too many. :)

      Looking forward to meeting up in person some day as well Anthony!

  8. Enjoyed this post, and will retweet it too.
    First time stopping by and I will come back because the article gave me reason too.
    I have attended lots of conferences of many types. I usually prepare for what I want to attend, selecting only the speakers or particular topics of interest.
    The rest is people watching, finding something to enjoy, and making a couple of decent contacts with people that I find likeable.

  9. Hi Karol,
    I love attending conferences, workshops, classes as either a presenter or participant because there is so much to experience if I drop expectations and commit to being open to the moment. The energy usually includes a life enriching sense of passion, purpose, commitment, drive, moxie, spunk..call it what you will.. but it is in abundance among all who there. To physically experience that energy and allow it to permeate my being and spark my own desire to create is a gift that I appreciate. I am thankful there are many different ways to network and to learn..so I carefully choose conferences that I know will interest me either for who I will meet, or the information that is presented (or both–a bonus!).

    • Thanks Joy. “drop expectations and commit to being open to the moment” – That’s big. It’s fine to have goals for a conference, of course, but it’s good to be open to the moment. A lot of great things have come from just that for me.

  10. The first conference I went to was in January 2010 (Steve Pavlina’s Conscious Growth Workshop). 1.5 years later, I’ve met many people who have been going to conferences for 5+ years, if not 10+ years, and have poured thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars into going into the next “big”, “must attend” conference.

    I noticed some of these people are still not yet living a ridiculously extraordinary life and seem to have not be getting any closer to doing so.

    The reason? Because they get addicted to the conference experience. They get addicted to the energy of the atmosphere, other attendees, the speakers, and being around people who are living ridiculously extraordinary lifestyles.

    What they haven’t done is invested enough time, energy, and resources in taking action & applying what they learn in these conferences. They haven’t (as you pointed out in bullet point #1), created anything! Please, for the love of yourself and your hard earned money, if you are one of these people, start creating! That’s my 2 cents. Thanks and good luck :)

  11. Haha, I had nr.7 (I must be there) in Germany.

    My tip: focus (in written form) what you want to learn/achieve/who You want to meet, at the conference a few days before. You get so distracted and focus on your goals.

    I’m curing myself with a August USA conference tour (eliteretreat, SES SF, Aff.Summit NY). After that, back in germany, I only plan to attend conferences for:
    -A payed speech
    -On invitation for a meeting
    -Meet friends

    • Jack, I agree it’s good to focus on what you want to learn/achieve/who you want to meet. I don’t write that stuff down though. And I focus more on making one solid connection with a person than anything else.

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