No matter how good you get at your trade, there is always room for getting even better. Since every expert has had his/her own unique set of experiences, there is always something new to learn from others that can help you soar to new heights. Conferences are a great channel for this growth.
Industry conferences and seminars are a hub of practical knowledge, where all sorts of thought leaders can be seen in action, sharing their experiences and their time-tested strategies for growth and success. The year – the bright and shining 2016 – is still young and it is high time that you pay due attention to this important avenue of learning and include it in your formal agenda for professional development. To do this, you need to add the objective of attending conference(s) this year to your performance evaluation goals. You should aim at actively attending and participating in conferences that are relevant to your field of work and showcase experts who can add value to the process of your professional growth.
Why attend an industry conference/seminar?
If you are still not convinced about attending industry conferences, here are some of the merits to help you clear your doubts so that you can set yourself to this agenda wholeheartedly:
Learning – An industry conference is a great place to gather valuable lessons and to hear from experts who have seen the highs and lows and managed to create success. Instead of reinventing the wheel, you can learn from their experiences and accelerate your growth by avoiding their mistakes and adapting their recommended strategies.
Networking – While entire books have been written on the importance of networking with other professionals, here it is once again. You need to connect and hang out with current gurus – without any exception. These efforts will not only open more avenues of learning, you will also come across more opportunities. With the passage of time, you can also become to be known as one of the industry experts.
Solving problems – None of the problems that we come across are new and many others have already faced and tackled similar challenges. By meeting your industry peers, you are more likely to meet such people who have devised solutions to the problems you are facing today – stories which are not likely to be found in books or articles!
Unwinding – The atmosphere at conferences is mostly a relaxed and friendly one. In addition to providing great learning opportunities, a conference can also provide you with a window of respite and you get to take a much-needed break from your monotonous work routine. Relax and learn!
Now let’s move on and discuss the basics of developing an action plan for attending an industry conference.
The Action Plan
The discussion that follows will chalk out the action plan which you can follow to realize this objective and make 2016 a year of unprecedented learning and professional growth.
Step 1 – Know the training policies
To start with, you will need to get in touch with the HR department to find out your organization’s prevailing policies related to training and development of employees. Some employers assign a specific amount per employee for such activities in a given year. If such a limit exists, you will need to figure it out and then look for events that fall within that range. Sometimes, there is room for going beyond that limit by obtaining special approvals. If that’s true, you can grab this opportunity to register for an event without having to worry about the costs.
Step 2 – Sign up formally
After sorting out the financials, it is a great idea make things formal and make this objective a part of your performance evaluation for 2016. Add attending your identified conference to your list of 2016 objectives and review it with your manager. This way, you will be officially informing your organization of your intentions and personally committing to achieving this goal- and that with a deadline.
Step 3 – Build the case
With that done, now you need to build the case for convincing your manager and the following questions can act as a guideline in this regard:
- Why this investment shall be made toward your development?
- What is in it for the organization?
- What return will the organization get from this investment?
By effectively answering these questions, you can persuade the decision makers to give you the green light signal for following your development plan. It is best to elaborate by including:
- The main learning points from each session of the conference you plan to attend
- The strategy for putting the newly acquired skills into use
- The impact of using the learning from the session on business efficiency in terms of cost, resource optimization and financial gain for the organization
The search for appropriate conferences to attend will be more fruitful if these questions and their responses are kept in sight. Using this guideline, you can frame out your training and development plan for the year and make sure that you are able to spare time out of your work schedule for that event. It is also a good idea to tie this activity with your personal development as well as it can help you establish yourself as an expert within your organization.
While you are listing down the benefits of this conference to your organization, you can make your case stronger by stating the number of Continuing Professional Development credits/CEUs that you will earn. You should also elaborate the entire credit point system for which you will be earning credits. Sharing this information will help you propose a complete development plan and propose other relevant conferences and seminars in the future as well.
Once you have covered the aforementioned points in your proposal, you are then ready to confidently discuss your participation with your manager and respond to their queries and concerns effectively – and ultimately get going on your way towards learning and growth.
Step 4 – Calculate other costs
In addition to the upfront conference fee, you should do your research and state all other costs that are involved in attending this conference. This may include the travel expenses, lodging, food and any other costs that you find relevant. Don’t overdo it! Consider staying at hotels nearby the conference hotel if the pricing is better. Find hotels with free airport shuttles or take Uber!
Step 5 – Plan your absence
It is also advisable to get someone to cover your official responsibilities while you are away from work, attending your conference. Oftentimes, the management is reluctant to send you off to trainings and conferences only because your absence might cause disruption in the flow of routine activities. By taking a proactive approach, you can plan your assignments around this activity and also request a suitable replacement well in advance, if necessary. This precaution will help your manager keep the system running without any hiccups.
You made a game plan and successfully met your objective of attending industry conferences. Bravo! But the game does not end here. To make the most out of this investment, you might want to consider the following activities once you are back:
- Prepare and present a report to your management showing your actual learning and how it will be helpful in solving business problems and improving your output.
- Share what you have learned with your peers at work. Why? Because sharing your learning with others help you gain deeper insights of into that knowledge and as an added bonus, you will gradually position yourself as a knowledgeable expert as well.
- Stay connected with the new people you met. Make it a habit to periodically get in touch with your newly made acquaintances and never miss an opportunity to meet them in person as well. It’s a good idea to plan your next conference with these people to strengthen your ties.