As we draw towards considering diary commitments for the autumn the mind is inevitably drawn towards the conference season. Over the years I have had the pleasure and misfortune to attend a wide variety of conferences covering many sectors. Sometimes as a speaker, others as a delegate I always make it a rule to look back and consider what it was that I gained from attending.
When I first started attending conferences I came back disappointed almost every time. I felt that my time could be better spent in the office and that I learned very little from my time away. After a few such episodes I looked at the common denominator linking all these conferences and it was me! Like much else in life you get out what you put in and I was a passive attendee despite always paying my own way.
To change this I knew that I had to play an active part in any conference which I was going to attend. Prior to setting off I have an indication of who it is that I wish to meet, what questions I am seeking answers to, what areas I need to be updated on and what it is that will make a difference to the business when I return.
As such I only attend those conferences which pass the tests above and always come back invigorated, with ideas to implement and new contacts made. How many people prepare themselves for conference attendance? Very few in my opinion. Too often I see delegates gravitate to those people that they know, never widen their circle of acquaintances and use the conference as a whinge session! Why?
Each year NWES takes a small contingent to the NFEA conference. We use this event as a valuable networking opportunity, chance to learn some tricks from other similar companies and gather ideas which may benefit us. I usually take a cross section of my staff to help them gain a wider appreciation of the industry and see how we compare to our peer group.
In the last week I have spoken to a couple of “wise men” in the industry who are probably not attending the NFEA conference this year. They have good reasons (excuses?) for being elsewhere but I would suggest that now more than ever attendance is vital for any agency that is serious about its future. Times ahead could, and probably will, be very hard and it is through continual learning and sharing of experiences that you stand a better chance of surviving intact.
For members of the NFEA the conference is astounding value and should be pencilled in as a must attend event. With 100+ members I would suggest that taking 2/3 people from each agency will be an investment that will pay dividends in the future. However to get that benefit consider the points above and make sure that you speak to as many new faces as familiar ones, that you get answers – or at least suggestions – to your questions and learn something that you will put into place when you return to the coal face. It could be the best money that you spend all year!
For members and non members alike see http://www.nfea.com/ for details of an industry specific conference which could help you.