The value of attending conferences is significant: Learn from a combination of expert and peer-led presentations on trends and strategies to improve processes, enhance quality, reduce costs and do your jobs more effectively; network and make new connections; seek certification and professional growth opportunities; peruse the exhibit halls to better understand vendor capabilities and services; and more.

Since I present at many leading shipping industry conferences, I’m often asked for recommendations on which to attend. Each conference has its unique lineup of speakers, schedule and format, topic/industry focus, etc. so my recommendations depend on what each person is looking to achieve. Some prefer smaller, more intimate conferences with limited attendance – others enjoy the big shows with attendance into the thousands. 

In addition, the cost to attend varies significantly. Some conferences are supported entirely through vendors and sponsors and are FREE for industry buyers. 
Others cost as much as $2,000.

I encourage online retailers and all shippers to selectively attend as many conferences as time and budget allows, but to plan in advance. Below, I’ve published a partial list of relevant conferences for supply chain/distribution executives that will take place over the next 12 months: 

If you are new to conferences, let me humbly suggest that you carefully plan your itinerary to maximize your investment. Most conferences publish the proceedings well in advance of the show, so take the time to map out your schedule. While there are plenty of opportunities for lavish vendor dinners and late night fun at the hotel bar, I encourage you to treat these conferences as “work.” Attend and actively participate in as many presentations, workshops, roundtables and keynote sessions as you can. Get to bed at a decent hour so you can start early and maximize learning the following day. 

That said, don’t skip social and networking opportunities including meals, cocktail hours and other events. These are some of the best opportunities to make new connections in an informal, relaxed setting. Bring plenty of business cards and introduce yourself to those sitting around you in each conference session. If you have challenges in your business, ask your peers how they resolved those issues within their business.

Can’t get your boss to approve the costs and time out of the office? In most cases, you simply haven’t provided sufficient justification! Leading companies continuously invest in the growth and development of its most important resource: its people. 
Here’s what I suggest: In my experience, C-Level executives are concerned with these nine business challenges (no particular order): 
1. Expense management
2. Revenue growth
3. Shareholder value
4. Increased productivity
5. Risk mitigation
6. Customer retention & satisfaction
7. Operational stability
8. Regulatory compliance

The good news about these nine challenges is that they are precisely the themes most conferences attempt to resolve! Once you’ve selected a conference you’d like to attend, study the conference proceedings to identify those presentations that will help you address some of these nine challenges (i.e. manage expenses more effectively, grow top line revenue, increase productivity, etc.). Then make an appeal to the powers that be, with their points of interest in mind!
Keep in mind that different people within an organization often have differing points of concern. Therefore, your chances of getting approval are better if you can articulate how conference attendance will help you address areas. Obviously, if possible, identify areas of importance for each key player that makes the decision. 

If at first you don’t succeed, check back with key players periodically as these areas of concern are transitory and will change. What keeps them up at night this month could be very different next month.

Be sure to document your activities at the conference (sessions attended, vendor and client meetings, important connections made, key learnings, etc.). And most importantly, demonstrate Return on Investment (ROI)! If your organization gained in productivity based on new products purchased on the trade show floor, quantify the value. Cost savings with a service provider? Write it down!

One final note…I recognize the conference list above reflects my bias as a parcel shipping consultant. If there are additional conferences that you recommend, kindly let me know to ensure it gets added to next year’s list.

I hope the list is valuable for you, and I am happy to talk with you to provide my candid assessment on any specific show or to recommend a conference around your interests. Good luck!

Rob Martinez, DLP is President & CEO of Shipware LLC, an innovative parcel audit and consulting firm that helps volume parcel shippers reduce shipping costs 10%-30%. Rob offers 25 years’ experience negotiating parcel contracts – on both sides of the negotiating table – for some of the most recognizable brands in the world, and is a sought after speaker and industry thought leader. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached at 858.879.2020 Ext 114 or