Make your attendance count: how to choose and afford conferences

Development opportunities, such as conferences, are vital to the success of young professionals. Not only do they allow you to bring new skills back to your job, but they help you grow your network and professional self.

There are conferences and conventions for nearly everything imaginable; deciding where to go can be an overwhelming decision at first. Something to consider is looking at the pros and cons of large vs. small conferences.

The high volume of attendees at larger scale conferences is both an advantage and disadvantage. In order to accommodate the larger numbers, schedules and itineraries tend to be tightly packed. However, because of the greater monetary resources, large conferences offer more workshop choices and more training sessions. With a broader selection of options, you can easily find education subsets that directly appeal to your goals and needs. Additionally, larger conferences will be able to bring in more esteemed speakers and guests. The drawback, however, is that because of the bustling schedule, you will have little or no time to interact with them outside of their presentations.

Smaller conferences equally have just as many advantages and disadvantages. A main selling point of attending smaller and regional conferences is that they are more affordable via cheaper registration fees, travel expenses, and accommodations. Smaller conferences also have the advantage of fostering more intimacy that may make it easier to forge connections, ask questions, and interact with guests and presenters overall. However, if growth or expansion is a primary goal of your company, either with products, services, or the company itself, you may miss some of the opportunities afforded from the national reach and the workshop selections of a large conference.

Regardless of what type you attend, the networking opportunities are the pivotal selling point. Conferences have a way of bringing together people who wouldn’t normally speak and the advantages such meetings could bring to your company are limitless – conferences can put you in contact with clients, customers, and competitors. Attendance is a great way to obtain market research via feedback from a target audience in a live setting, as well as in terms of finding out strengths and weaknesses of your competitors.

In sum, conferences are a great opportunities for growth by:

Building your knowledge base

Learn about the newest cutting edge technology, stay up to date with the latest trends and platforms, and even learn about organizational and leadership development.

Building your professional network

Whether it’s through the simple exchange of a business card, or through a lively conversation at a social function, conferences can forge relationships with people locally, nationally, and even internationally.

Building your resources

Conferences are an exchange of information; they are full of people promoting new ideas, vendors selling new products, and consultants teaching new methodologies.

Are you interested in attending but not sure which one to go to, or where to start? Michael Brenner from B2B Marketing Insider has posted his list of the Best Marketing Conferences of 2015. While you can surely search for conferences that are more specific, the ones on his list include a variety of communication topics such as digital strategy, social media, content marketing, tech, and leadership. The list is organized by starting date and includes what city/region each takes place along with a summary of the event. Another helpful list is by Siege Media. Their page provides a price guide, links to more information, and lets you filter results by region.

The only downside to such events are cost. With travel, hotel expenses, and registration fees, conferences can easily total a couple of thousands of dollars. One way to offset the expense is by getting your organization or company to help pay.

Young professionals do not hesitate to ask your boss or company to financially contribute to these opportunities – the worst that can happen is they say no. In fact, some larger companies might include professional growth opportunities in your employee contract. The American Chemical Society Career Navigator says to go back to your offer letter/contract to check if such benefits are included. If so, be sure to tactfully bring up the company’s obligation when you pitch the conference to your boss.

Here are a couple of things to have handy when you sit down to speak with your boss.

  • Have all the details about the conference and expenses printed out and ready to show them. This will help them quickly assess if the conference can fit in the budget they have.
  • Tell them what skills you will be developing. IT consultant Brent Ozar says to print out a list of sessions you plan on attending, that way you can quickly tell your boss how each one will benefit the company. This also shows you are serious, not just trying to find a way to get out of the office for a couple of days.
  • Tell them why their company or organization needs to be in attendance. One reason people attend conferences is to network. Remind your boss of the great exposure the company can get by you attending and wearing a company t-shirt. Mention you will share your conference experience via social media or email write-ups to fellow employees. “By being part of the conference buzz, we get our names out there and get a slice of that coveted thought leadership pie,” says Janine Popick. Sharing that company employees are participating in learning opportunities also gives off a progressive and employee-oriented image, something that could make a company stand out to potential customers, business partners and current stakeholders.

After you have finished your pitch, leave your boss the printed materials to review. If they come back with a no, don’t freak out. Go back and try to negotiate. If they didn’t give you a reason with their no, sit down with them again and reiterate your interest. Let them know you are willing to pay for some of the expenses. Below are three different asking levels. I would always start with number one and work down to not paid.

  1. Fully Paid (meals, travel, hotel, registration)
  2. Partially Paid (you pay for meals and travel, company pays for hotel and registration)
  3. Not paid (you pay full expenses, but DO NOT use vacation days)

If you are attending a professional conference that aligns closely with your job position, the least an organization can do is give you the time to go, especially if you are paying out of pocket. If you are still tight for money, but really want to go, check out Carrie Smith’s article “8 Ways to Attend a Business Conference for Free”, she offers some money saving tips and creative ways in which to lower attendance cost.

We encourage all of our readers to take advantage of these opportunities. Not only do they help you grow your network and skills, but they also are creatively stimulating and refreshing. If you are a blog reader located in the triangle or southeastern part of the state, you may be interested in the upcoming IMC Conference 2015: Creating Spaces of Engagement. Hosted by UNC Wilmington’s Communication Studies Department, the goal of the three-day event is to explore how integrated marketing communication (IMC), as grounded in the communication discipline, enables community engagement. This year’s conference dates are May 28th – 30th with registration closing this Friday, May 22nd. To find out more about the conference events, check out the website, view the schedule, or contact conference planner, Dr. Jeanne Persuit.

What conferences have you attended lately? Let us know why you decided to attend, how you learned about it, and how it was beneficial.

– Caroline Robinson and Savannah Valade

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