Conferences can be expensive – especially if your work isn’t covering the ticket. That doesn’t mean you should miss out some of the networking and learning opportunities. In this guide, we will share our favorite hacks to attend conferences for free.
This is the most rewarding and arguably easiest way to get free entry. You get direct experience and useful connections, even at the smaller conferences. Even better: organizers, and other volunteers, can give you behind-the-scenes advice about the best speakers or private events.
The amount of time you spend helping the organizers depends on the cost of the initial ticket and whether they cover additional expenses.
You may miss out on learning opportunities though. As Thursday Bram noted:
“You may have a much harder time attending the parts of the conference you’re interested in because you may not have a lot of freedom in setting your own schedule.”
Many conferences offer online recordings of sessions for those that were unable to attend for those that don’t want to miss anything.
If you’re interested in volunteering and there’s no formal information present on the website, reach out to conference organizers directly (if you can’t find their details, check them out on LinkedIn on Twitter) and pitch them your involvement.
Borrow a badge
Writer Sarah Lacy borrowed a speaker’s badge for the Web 2.0 conference from Marc Andreessen. She wrote about it in Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good, the book she talked about at this Mixergy interview. (More tips from Mixergy here.)
We don’t advocate this technique but it can work. Many badges aren’t checked at smaller conferences, especially on the second day.
[Editor’s note: someone recently told me they even mocked up their own badge using Photoshop, which they used to successfully gain entry to a large annual conference. Obviously this isn’t ethical but it does shine light on the lengths people will go to!]
Usually, I just set up a Google Alert for the name of the conference and the phrase, “free ticket”. I seem to get most of the contests and giveaways that way. (More on 6 Ways to Attend Awesome Conferences for Free.)
This is not a guaranteed-to-work strategy but your odds are increased for smaller events or ones where the organizers are doing a lot of giveaways.
[Editor’s note: we have done ticket giveaways on The Fetch and a lot of these are been on a first-come, first-serve basis. So speediness is your friend here.]
Review for a publication
Sometimes you can get free entry if you agree to review a conference for a high profile blog or publication. It creates a win/win situation, as they get to increase their exposure and credibility. The media get preferred seats, access to the speakers one-on-one and invites to special events.
An alternative is preview the conference in the lead up to it. This is when organizers are looking to do publicity and get the word out there to pump up ticket sales. You can always interview a speaker or write about what this year’s event will hold in exchange for a pass on the day.
Become an affiliate
Many conferences have affiliate programs that will pay you a percentage of the ticket price for each ticket sold via a referral link. Technically, this isn’t a free but it can be a useful way to get reimbursed for the costs.
Offer to help before the conference
Organizers often need help in the lead-up to the conference. This is different from volunteering as it frees you up to attend all sessions and networking opportunities. We recommend contacting an organizer 2-3 months before the conference and ask if you can trade services.
Crowdfunding is when you ask your audience to cover the costs of attendance. Those that do this often promise that they will report on the conference in return for financial support. Alternately, some people host sales to raise funds.
This can be risky. It can be perceived as begging and impact on your credibility. Some conference organizers actively discourage people to raise money this way.
This one is relevant for the entrepreneurs out there… for tech- or startup-related conferences, another way to get into conferences is to demo your product. These can range from competitive pitches like Launch Festival and TechCrunch Disrupt where the winner gets funded, to gender-specific ones like Women 2.0.
Some of the social impact geared conferences, like TED, Skoll World Forum or The Feast, have fellowships that will sponsor your ticket. Make sure you check out the application processes well in advance.
The Fetch Ambassador Program
We also run a local City Ambassador Program, where we send people to report on cool events. It’s a smart way to build your personal portfolio, reach speakers and organizers, and connect with other people in the community. Click here to learn more.
About our contributor // Jade Craven is a blogger and social marketing specialist. Follow her on Twitter @jadecraven.
Image credit: Web Directions South 2012