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Professional Conferences: How to Show a Solid Return on Investment

Does your organization regularly send its professionals to industry conferences, expositions, or trade shows? If so, you might not have much trouble getting approval for your next business trip to a conference.

Unfortunately, many professionals find themselves breaking new ground within organizations that have never paid for employees to attend conferences. Acquiring funds to attend a conference might be akin to getting blood from a stone if the powers that be view conferences as a waste of time and money.

You want to develop as a professional within your industry. You know conferences, expositions, and trade shows are a great way to meet other professionals and learn from the best in the industry. But how do you convince your organization that the cost is worth it?

Acknowledge Reality

As an initial step, be smart about the conference you want to attend. While a small conference in sunny Hawaii between Christmas and New Year’s Eve might sound delightful, an organization might see such a conference as nothing more than an all-expenses-paid boondoggle in the middle of winter.

Instead, choose a conference that is well-regarded and well-attended within your industry. Many conferences have longstanding reputations for providing high-quality content year after year. Ask your peers to recommend conferences that they’ve benefited from in the past.

And don’t downplay monetary concerns. The bottom line is important, and conferences aren’t free. There are registration fees and costs for travel, lodging, and food. Accurately estimate these costs and get ready to justify them.

An Investment in YOU

Your organization makes investments all the time. Some investments, like equipment, are easy to quantify and justify. The benefits of attending a conference, however, might not be as apparent to others as they are to you.

Decision makers need to understand that paying for a trip to a conference is a professional investment in human capital, namely YOU! Sure, there are costs involved, but there are costs associated with any good investment.

R.O.I.

What does any good business person expect from an investment? A return, of course! You must convince your organization that its investment in you will provide a real, tangible return that justifies the expenditure.

Do your research, and put your request in writing. Demonstrate that you’re committed to explaining why the funds you’re asking for will be money well-spent. Here are a few examples of the benefits of attending a conference that will clearly show that its value far exceeds its costs:

Knowledge

Conferences bring together professionals from all areas of an industry to share knowledge and resources. In fact, the educational content of a conference can be staggering. There are usually more keynote speeches, in-depth training sessions, live demonstrations, hands-on workshops, presentations, tours, and exhibits than one person could see in just a few days.

In your request, you must clearly target the sessions you plan to attend, what you expect to learn from them, and how that knowledge will help you—and your organization—in the future. If you can tie the conference’s educational content to current and future projects you’re working on, you’ll be well on the way to demonstrating its value.

Solutions

Knowledge is important and valuable, but knowing how to apply the knowledge you gain to your organization is even more important. At a conference, you can learn about current trends. A visit to the exhibit hall will allow you to interact with vendors showcasing the latest technology. Most importantly, however, you will meet and interact with people with real-world experience dealing with the challenges your organization faces.

You’ll probably discover problems that you haven’t even anticipated yet. Fortunately, you’ll also learn that there are a variety of solutions to those problems. You can even debate the merits of competing solutions with experienced experts. The most important lesson you might leave with is how a similar organization handled a challenging project that your organization is getting ready to tackle soon.

Networking

Conferences attract a wide variety of professionals, including industry experts, business leaders, educators, and vendors. The opportunity to connect and collaborate with likeminded professionals from around the world can’t be overstated.

It’s hard to put a price on establishing a network of contacts to call upon at the local, regional, and national level. How would you quantify the value of gaining first-hand insights from peers who have already successfully navigated the waters you’re about to set sail upon? How much is it worth to be able to contact experts when you hit turbulent seas and need help navigating? Some might call those peer networks priceless.

Credit

Does your industry require some form of ongoing professional development, continuing education, or other training? Attending conferences with great educational content can be a great way to satisfy these requirements, earning needed credits that would have to be paid for at some point in any case.

Don’t Recreate the Wheel

Does putting together a written request that highlights all of these benefits and ties them to specific projects important to your organization sound like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be. Do your research and look for resources that may already be available.

For example, the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) CareerTech VISION 2018 conference’s website features an Attendee Registration page with a link to a Letter of Justification. This Microsoft Word document contains important information about the conference and its benefits. It can easily be downloaded and customized with your particular information to present to your organization.

Be Flexible

If you follow the advice set forth above, you’ve got a good chance of convincing your organization that sending you to a conference is a professional investment that will yield a significant return. Sometimes, though, the bottom line is so tight that you might need to follow up in person to seal the deal.

Whatever you do, don’t wait until the last minute. Be sure to start the process early to give yourself as much leeway as possible when it comes to dickering on the cost of specific items. For example, registering early for a conference can save hundreds of dollars.

Likewise, making travel arrangements far in advance of the conference dates will often reduce costs greatly. If money is really tight, you don’t need to stay at the hotel where the conference is being held. Use an online booking website to find a cheaper hotel. Get a place that includes breakfast and you can get by with a smaller per diem. You can even offer to take public transportation in lieu of renting a vehicle.

Being flexible and seeking to reduce costs wherever possible demonstrates your commitment to the organization’s bottom line. Hopefully, your organization will see the benefits of your chosen conference and gladly support your professional development.

About Duane Bolin

Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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