At Rhythm Systems, we believe in getting smarter on a regular basis. I say "believe in" getting smarter because it’s one of our core values, Keep Smart. In exercising this value, we read books, watch webcasts, teach sessions weekly to one another and attend conferences. We’ve learned that any of these activities has much more value when we begin with the end in mind. When conducting onsite planning sessions, we’ll begin with the end in mind so it may not be surprising that we do something similar for conference attendance. We start with a long-range strategy (what’s the overall objective for the conference), priorities (main objectives we wish to complete) which might included knowledge, people connections, business ideas, and measures to know if we’re hitting our conference targets or not.
When attending the conference is not hitting our targets, we face the brutal facts and question whether we’re attending the wrong sessions, did we set the wrong objectives, or should we leave a session (or the conference) early to never return? I’ve recently realized that I took this approach for granted, that I assumed that everyone did it. I’ve known over the years that my clients have agreed in theory, but only recently discovered that they didn’t know how to do it. Perhaps this is you. You may have struggled with the investment of sending team members to conference year-over-year with no measure of return. If that describes you, then you’re my inspiration for this 2 part blog series.
My objective is for you to have a tool to first determine if conference attendance is worth it, and second, to squeeze every bit of investment return from attending – much like a seasoned tax accountant in preparation for year end. If nothing else, the following is a rapid prototype for making sure that from this moment forward you get maximum value from any conference investment.
It became evident from questions I’m asked by CEOs that although many agree with the idea of getting great return from conference attendance most don't know how to do it.
In my next post in this series, I will share my 9 Steps to Get the Most From Any Conference. Today, I'll start with determining whether the conference is worth attending, plus a bonus - guidelines for leaders and non-leaders to get attendance approval.
Let’s start with getting approval, and yes, CEOs should apply this framework to their attendance decision as well. I start here because the foundation of getting approval means you must clearly understand whether the conference is worth it.
Consider two things when seeking conference approval:
- Expenses: Carefully consider all costs involved in attending, including any lost opportunities due to expense or time to attend.
- Benefits: Be clear in outlining benefits and how they can be magnified within your company or team.
Let's dig deeper into each to answer the question, is it worth it?
Is it Worth It consideration #1 - Expenses. Create a complete list of the total conference expenses indicating that you’ve carefully considered and calculated all factors that affect conference attendance. For conference expenses, utilize something like this example Conference Investment Worksheet:
Is It Worth It consideration #2 - Benefits. It’s OK to personally gain from attending a conference, but to get approval, you need to translate benefits into a company perspective. How does the organization gain by your attendance?
When sharing benefits,
- Keep focus on what you will specifically bring back to the organization.
- Consider offering a short presentation to your team sharing key points and learnings (magnifying the value throughout your organization).
- Also, consider offering to share speaker handouts and tools. Additionally, as an attendee, you may have access to videos, white papers and guides posted online by speakers.
Understanding the Benefits
Benefits from conference attendance will be hard to quantify, and you may be tempted to exaggerate. Don't.
Many experts agree that the big benefit of conference attendance is networking. How will you value that? Where else might you find so many industry contacts available in one place at one time? Will someone be attending that you know has already solved a challenge your company or department faces? As you consider networking value, ask yourself, does my boss (or company culture) value networking?
Your focus for conference approval should be what you will bring back to the organization as return for the investment, not about what you will personally gain. Even when conference attendance is mandatory to maintain any accreditation, you’ll have choices in which one to attend. Look for the one that offers the most value to your organization.
As you outline benefits, include details like:
- Content. What sessions have particular relevance to your team’s work? Include things like tools, processes, best practice, industry breakthroughs, etc.
- Vendor contacts. Will the conference showcase vendors that are potential partners or suppliers? Will there be opportunity to compare vendors or move relationships forward?
- Best practices. Will any sessions offer immediate benefit to your team?
- Training. Are any sessions designed to teach participants a special skill? Designed to help your team overcome a current or future challenge?
Quantifying the Benefits
Spell out the conference benefits in a way that your boss would have written it. Articulate the connection between your company’s knowledge requirements and the conference program. The example of a Conference Benefits Worksheet below should help you organize and quantify benefits. Remember, if it doesn’t make sense for your boss or your company, omit the information.
Plan to Sell The Idea of Attendance
Think through timing, key points (from your board, boss, or executive team member view) and anticipate any objections.
Let’s assume you get the answer, yes. Before you leave town, document the details of the investment and benefits you're expecting, while at the conference continue to fill in the details, and when you return, organize the most important information to implement or share with your team.
Now that you've determined that the conference is worth it and you are ready to get approval, the only thing left is to maximize the time you're there. Stay tuned for my next post sharing the steps to get the most return on your conference investment.