About five years ago, I received feedback from my team that they wanted me to take a lesser role in the day-to-day operations of Call-Em-All and focus more on leadership and vision. What a blessing that was! I had recently found a conference that I wanted to attend, but I was having trouble justifying whether it was worth the time and expense. It was in Vegas, after all, and wasn't specifically related to our industry – you see how that might look bad, right? The encouragement of my team was just what I needed to make it happen.
Five years later, questioning the value of getting out of the office for a learning and networking event is laughable to me. I'd like to share some of my observations related to conferences and encourage you to find and attend a completely new event. Worried about getting the expense approved? I’ll help you make a strong case and give you a few ideas to help find a conference that’s right for you.
I've observed 3 primary benefits from attending a conference. Let's briefly discuss each.
Operations & Learning
As you'd expect, learning opportunities are typically the primary motivation for attending a conference. This is also the most obvious place to look for justifying the cost of attending an event. However, I suspect some managers make the mistake of asking "What specifically are you going to learn at this event?" I believe this is a mistake because the best learning opportunities are often not that deliberate. I've found that the takeaway from a speaker is often something completely unrelated to their topic. For example, I was at a leadership conference where Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's was giving a presentation on his visioning process. I ended up going in a completely different direction and started defining Call-Em-All’s Guiding Principles. This was not Ari’s intention at all, but his presentation inspired me. I'm glad it did, because those principles were the first step toward documenting and teaching Call-Em-All’s culture.
I hate the word "networking," but that's what this is. To me, networking implies a sense of deliberate manipulation – as if you're intentionally trying to gain something from the people in the room. What you really want to do is just meet people. You'll certainly find peers, and they may become clients, vendors, and partners, too. You'll find people who are facing or have faced similar challenges. People love to share and help others solve problems. You can meet them at conferences, and you might even start to refer to them as friends. Assuming you have chosen a conference that is in some way relevant to your work, you should have no problem finding small ideas and solutions from conversations with the people you meet. It is not uncommon for me to find more value out of lunch conversations than I do from the presentations themselves!
Personal & Organizational Health
Before you even leave for an event, you'll have to make sure your duties at the office are covered. This could mean cross training or empowering your teammates. Cross trained employees and empowered subordinates are a great foundation for a healthy team. When you do leave the office, it allows you to set aside your daily demands and give your mind the time it needs to focus on higher level thinking. In fact, simply traveling somewhere new makes your mind more receptive to new ideas, improves your overall health, and can inspire you to greatness.
Where to Start?
If you don't already attend an industry-specific event, this is an obvious starting point. Many industries have national or world-wide annual conferences. But there are also many state and local-level organizations, too. However, I fear that some people don't stray out of the industry-oriented comfort zone. Here are a few other subject areas to consider:
- Industry Events (national, state, local)
- Vendor/User conferences
- Leadership & Ideas (www.ted.com, http://www.inc.com/events )
- Business culture (www.smallgiants.org)
- Skills-based (marketing, programming, accounting, etc.)
I hope that I've given you the inspiration and justification to get out of the office. I know that the logistics of travel can be challenging, but pick the right event, and I'm confident that you'll benefit both personally and professionally.