HOW TO: Sell Your Manager on Attending a Conference

In response to my post on “What are HR Analysts and Why Should You Pay Attention to Them”, I had a Twitter connection ask me about going to conferences. Specifically, about how to sell senior leadership on attending a conference.

I have been in this position many times. Even now, as a consultant, I still use the lessons I learned from pitching conferences to my manager when I have to make decisions regarding attending conferences. There are tons of events out there – some of my faves include ATD’s International Conference and Exposition, SHRM’s Annual Conference, and the HR Technology Conference. Unless your job requires you to attend conferences, then you have to figure out the best ones to commit your resources.

Find the best conferences for you. It’s very tempting to attend an event because it’s in a fun location or because all the cool kids are going to be there. If money is no object, then by all means. Conferences need to produce a return on your investment. So think about what you want to learn and then start searching for the right events.

Ask the right questions. Reaching out to respected colleagues about conferences to attend could be a good idea. The important part is asking the right question, “What were your takeaways from the event?”. If you get a blank stare, that doesn’t necessarily mean the conference isn’t worth your time. But do try to find out the value of attendance.

Learning takes place in many ways. Speaking of learning, it’s important to understand how you like to learn (i.e. visual, auditory, kinesthetic). For instance, there are certain topics that I want to learn by reading a book. I would not attend a conference for those topics. But others, I want to learn differently and a conference is the perfect format.

Learning happens in many places. Yes, learning happens during educational sessions. Don’t forget that learning also takes place during networking and on the expo hall floor. And occasionally at the bar with colleagues.

You’ve done your research and identified a conference you’d like to attend. Before going to your manager, be prepared to answer some questions. These are the types of questions that my manager used to ask me:

  1. CONFERENCE: What organization hosts this conference? How long have they been around? How often do they have conferences? Do they offer regional events? Are you a member?
  2. COST: How much will attending this event cost? How much is registration versus travel? Are you prepared to share in the cost of the trip?
  3. TAKEAWAYS: What do you expect to learn? Is there another way to learn this information? How will it impact your job today? And how will it impact the company?
  4. WORK: How will your work be handled while you are gone?
  5. FOLLOW-UP: What is your plan for sharing information when you return?

This might seem like a lot of questions. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an employee bring a conference brochure to a manager without thinking about the cost, their work, or the follow-up. If your manager doesn’t ask, that’s fine. At least you were prepared.

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Going to a conference can be a great way to learn. If you really want to attend the event, do the homework. And it’s possible that, in doing the homework, you will discover whether or not this is the right event for you.

Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby