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How To Attend Conferences Free and Get More Out of Them

TechCrunch Disrupt picture by John Exley Attending conferences and trade shows in whatever industry you work in is so important because you get to see new developments that are happening first hand, find new leads that could turn into clients, form partnerships with people to grow a company or even close deals that have been in the works.  Problem is some industry events can be very expensive with some passes north of a couple thousand dollars.  This was true for the last event I attended, which I reviewed in my previous post TechCrunch Disrupt 2010, but according to most of the attendees I spoke to it was worth every penny. 

Good news is if your creative you can find ways to get in free and the benefits of some of the following ways will allow you to meet many more people than by simply buying a pass like all the other chumps.

One way to not only attend conferences free but even often times be paid to be there is to speak at the event.  Several months before the actual event takes place conference organizers look for speakers.  Often times they solicit presenters on their blogs and you can email them a brief summary of what you would present and convince them that this would add value to their conference.  You should ideally have at least three or four presentations that are relevant to the type of conferences you enjoy attending.

Another way to attend industry events at no charge is by applying for a “press pass”.  You may be saying to yourself, that that would be great if I was a journalist.  Well journalism and media has evolved tremendously over the past five years.  A change which has benefited many bloggers, because if you do write a blog and have a large following you could also qualify for a press pass at almost every industry event you attend.  This is just one of the many perks blogging offers (You can see other benefits of blogging if you sign up to my mailing list and if you want to start your own blog the following series of online videos helped me get started in no time at all, WordPress Wizard). 

So presenting and blogging your way to industry events is by far the best way to go.  Not only do you attend these events free, but you are seen as a thought leader and an authority of  your particular niche.  After the event is over, you then write about all the great experiences you had and people interested in the event read your blog and consequently you get even a larger following benefiting both, the conference organizers and your blog. 

If your speaking at an event or blogging about it your not just another attendee but rather you are gracing the conference organizers and the audience with your presence.  They want you there because you are evangelizing their event.  To attend events as a speaker or blogger though, you must have some sort of track record and built a name for yourself.  The reason conference organizers give you these passes are in hopes that more people attend because they know you are going.  If you haven’t quite built the huge reputation necessary to get your sticky little fingers on these pricey passes don’t worry, there are other ways.

Volunteering is another great way to get into these events.  Conference organizers work round the clock to ensure their events runs smoothly.  There is no way they can do all the work required for a successful conference by themselves thus they rely on volunteers to help with much of the work load.  Volunteering is much better then simply attending an event as a participant, because you get to see all the work that goes on behind the scenes.  Even better than this you build a relationship with the conference organizers who are generally an authority in your particular niche. 

Having a company sponsor you is another way to get in.  Work the conference for a company that sponsors the event or even attend in place of a company that would like to have a presence there but cant attend for whatever reason.  You could perhaps help them work their table at the event, pass out their flyers or even just walk around wearing their t-shirt or other promotional material.  To get in this way it helps if your attractive and outgoing, but not to worry you ugly introverts, knowledge about the particular company and being able to clearly explain what they do is probably even better than a pretty face.

Win free passes.  Often times conference organizers give passes to popular bloggers and other media outlets to give away to their audiences to create excitement about the event.  These bloggers, radio stations, etc have competitions or even give away the passes randomly.  Keep an eye out for these or hit the search engines and you may just be one of the lucky few to win a pass.  Sometimes all that is required in these competitions is a tweet or a comment on a blog saying why you want to attend. 

Finally if all the attempts above fail ask about student passes.  Many conference organizers encourage students to attend.  Student passes can be significantly reduced and often times free to a select number of people. 

So a quick recap of ways you can attend at no cost to you are to:

  1. Give a presentation that would add value to the conference
  2. Apply for a press pass, if you write a blog or work with another media outlet
  3. Volunteer
  4. Have a company sponsor you
  5. Win a free pass
  6. Ask for a student pass

If you know of any other clever ways of attending conferences without paying the high ticket prices make sure and let me know in the comments below.  Stay tuned for the next post and I’ll tell you how to get the most out of your industry events by planning ahead.

5 thoughts on “How To Attend Conferences Free and Get More Out of Them”

  1. Great advice Adrian. I’m glad you are urging people to go to conferences like TechCrunch Disrupt and also to move to NYC (greatest city on earth mate!).

    I volunteered with you and I concur, it’s a tremendous opportunity. Volunteering also gives you the chance to learn how such a inaugural event is organized behind the scenes. And? Being able to go backstage was really cool as well.

    Last way to get a ton of value out of a conference for free? Stay at home to hustle and then watch it livestreamed. Everyone is doing it now. Mashable’s Media Summit conference is being livestreamed all week as well.

    Can’t catch it live? They record the live broadcast as well. Here’s all the videos from TechCrunch Disrupt: http://techcrunch.com/disrupt/

    Keep hustling Adrian!

    – John aka X

  2. thanks for the excellent information!! your ideas are seriously great… i jst wanted to know more about volunteering in a conference. I mean how to get started about volunteering. . . because most of the conferences don’t provide any volunteer registration form.. and if you suugest writing to them about it. . . i cn’t figure out what to write.. wud u help me, pls??

    1. Adrian Childers

      95% of conference organizers depend on some volunteers to help with their event. You are right that many times, they don’t solicit help from the general public. If you are interested in an event someone is hosting, I would recommend learning as much as you can about the event and the organizers and reach out to them several weeks beforehand.

      If you would like to volunteer, the first thing you have to do is ask to see if they are accepting volunteers. If they say yes, be honest with them and tell them you would like to help with anything they need and that you enjoy volunteering because it gives you an opportunity to meet more people. Most importantly follow through with what you promise you can help them with.

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