Keith Ferrazzi makes a good case that the answer is no, in Never Eat Alone.
The reason that conferences are not unnecessary expenses is because it is actually revenue generating to attend. But this is often overlooked because only the cost is tied to the conference in an organization’s budget, but the productive outcomes from the conference are not.
First, here’s how Ferrazzi decides whether to attend a conference:
“Conferences are good for mainly one thing. They provide a forum to meet the kind of like-minded people who can help you fulfill your mission and goals. Before deciding to attend a conference, I sometimes informally go so far as using a simple return-on-investment thought process. Is the likely return I’ll get from the relationships I establish and build equal to or greater than the price of the conference and the time I spend there? If so, I attend. If not, I don’t.”
Second, here is Ferrazzi’s very good case on why cutting out conferences is a bad way to cut costs:
“Right after we sold YaYa, the new owners instituted a set of cost-cutting policies relative to travel and conferences. I thought the policies were fundamentally off the mark. The owners saw conferences as boondoggles–pleasant affairs for indulgent executives rather than as revenue generators. To our new parent company, the costs of sending people to a few events each year seemed like an unnecessary expense on the start-up company’s balance sheet.
“I strongly disagreed and promised to convince them otherwise. I set about recording the actual number of revenue-generating projects that came directly from people I had met at conferences. The owners were stunned when I presented a spreadsheet showing successive deals and how a significant chunk of revenue could be traced back to one conference or another.”
Third, here’s a good summary from Fast Company on the value of conferences and conventions: They enable you to (1) make contacts and (2) share ideas.