Im sitting in my living room 30 mins after my drive home from On The Road a photography conference held at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Spa in Atlantic city NJ.
If you didn't get what I just did there I tried to low-key shout out or direct you attention to the sponsors. It is better than any commercial or ad-space ever! Don't get me wrong it is not all bad, there is information and experience to benefit from for days.
Whether it is intentional or not, the problem is impressionable amateurs feel pressure or are led to believe that the products and the methods they see will make them better photographers. If you factor in your favorite professional in any field with an endorsement of a product that makes the task you envy them for easier it would make the viewer easy pickings for vendors.
I have been to more than a few conferences with colleges and universities and scholarships from professional organizations. I have always said I would not pay to go to these things but I think before it was because I couldn't afford it. Now I am of the school of thought that I don't need it. I say this because of all the things being sold no one offered or mentioned things that would really make you better like internships at their studios or regimens to practice so people know that even the lighting modifier they are swearing by won't help you without putting in the work.
It really is the attendee's responsibility to pick and choose what sticks and what slips from the conference experience but the exhibitors are being paid handsomely to be nice to these people and with the cost of the ticket it only makes sense for them to play along.
My tips for conference choice is to research the exhibitors and subject matter covered check their sponsors websites and make a plan for what you will learn during your time there. Listen with your eyes not your wallet. Pick up a better way to use your equipment and find a way to link with one of the pros outside of conference life. Otherwise stay home and practice.