I’m getting pumped up for next month’s Dreamforce.  If you do anything remotely connected to cloud computing, it’s a must-attend event (and if you don’t have your registration yet, there are options including free Expo passes here).

There are many reasons why this trip is a good use of my time, but in general I’m a big fan of regularly finding events that get me out of my office, away from my usual environment, and somewhere I can accelerate my business, my own learning, and my value to our clients all at the same time.

I love the growing trend of online-only conferences, as well as the ever-present availability of webinars to help me learn. But nothing will replace the value of being there live. Four reasons for this.

1. Get that “out of office” perspective

Away from the regular tugs at your time, the same four walls you stare at, you can have a different perspective. You’ll naturally think about things differently. You’ll have an entirely new set of stimuli (visual, auditory, written) to spark creativity and innovation. You can get this even by attending an event in your home town. No matter how you do it, getting outside of your regular environment is worth it more often. Why do you think teams go “offsite” for executive meetings and brainstorms? Same reason. advantage of them now.

2. Meet new people and deepen existing relationships

I love my social networks, my LinkedIn and my entire online system for meeting new people and maintaining relationships. But nothing can replace doing it with a handshake, a smile, and seeing the whites of their eyes. Whether you meet in the lobby of the conference hotel, on the trade show floor, at the evening parties or even while playing golf, these are the relationships that go deeper, that develop long-term preference and business value for you over time. It’s differentiating, in your favor, in a way that online networking can never be.

3. Talk to the vendors

Yes, they want to sell you something. And some will either be too aggressive or ignore you. But every vendor on the show floor knows something that you don’t. It’s your job to learn from them. Ask them questions about their slice of the industry, what they’re seeing from their customers, what they see moving forward. Try to find the product managers in the booth who spend most of their time listening to customers and translating those needs into new product features. They’ll often have the best insights into what’s now and what’s next.

4. Use the casual moments to your advantage

Set up quick coffee meetings with people you’ve just met, or haven’t seen in awhile. If you need to catch up on email, do so in the hotel lobby or in a public place so you’re more likely to run into someone you know. Invite new people to lunch or dinner or drinks to get to know them better, and learn from them. If you do eat alone, do so at a location close to the conference and eat at the bar. You’ll likely be sitting next to someone else from the conference. Take a long, early-morning walk and take a notepad or digital recorder to record new ideas, priorities for the day, etc. There are countless ways to squeeze more value out of the more casual moments when you travel.

What about you? If you still attend events live, why do you do it? What value do you get, and what else do you prioritize on those trips to increase value for yourself and your business?

This post is an excerpt from Heinz Marketing’s Dreamforce Survival Guide, featuring more than 25 pages of advice on how to get the most of your time in San Francisco with 90,000+ of your closest friends next month.  To get a complete copy of the Survival Guide (no registration required), please click here.

About the Author

Matt_Heinz_Headshot_100x100__3.31.11_Matt Heinz is an author and President of Heinz Marketing. Matt has held various positions at companies such as Microsoft, Weber Shandwick, Boeing, The Seattle Mariners, Market Leader and Verdiem. In 2007, Matt began Heinz Marketing to help clients focus their business on market and customer opportunities, then execute a plan to scale revenue and customer growth. You can read more from Matt on his blog, Matt on Marketingfollow him on Twitter, or check out his books on Amazon.com.