For the second-straight year, I have the good fortune of attending this year’s Greater Wisconsin EAPA Chapter Conference in Milwaukee. Like a lot of professionals, I know there is a lot to be gained from attending such events – networking and meeting new contacts, reacquainting oneself with previous attendees, and yes, sometimes drumming up more business.
Unfortunately, many employers only see the latter point as a worthwhile reason for going. You can’t blame them to a certain extent. It’s true that most work organizations are operating “lean and mean” these days, and so conferences are all too often seen as an unnecessary expense. They see events like these only as opportunities to be “order takers” for their products or services – and if the “orders” don’t look like they will offset expenses, it’s off the table. You’re not going. End of story.
They don’t “get” that professional conferences offer tremendous opportunities for face-to-face networking that will end up paying for itself many times over. But the value is often more intrinsic than financial in the beginning, and many employers won’t take that risk.
One of the reasons I left my former employer is because of how poorly networked I was in the other fields that I covered and wrote about, compared to how WELL connected I was with professionals working in employee assistance. It made no sense to me that I could have so many people to turn to for articles, suggestions for topics, and others, in one profession, and so FEW people to contact in other fields. It was literally a “disconnect.”
Perhaps even more important are the friendships you start building when you attend events face to face. Even in today’s online day and age, there is still nothing quite like meeting people in person. I have written about the importance of face to face before on this blog and so I’ll stop there, but suffice it to say that there is a big difference between having people to talk to about a given topic, than it is to simply google it.
If you have a reluctant boss, explain that while the event might not bring in a lot of money immediately, over the long haul the additional contacts will drive more business. If that isn’t enough to get you on a plane to XYZ city, if your personal finances allow it, go to an important conference out of your own pocket – but with the stipulation that if the contacts you meet at the event ends up bringing in enough business to justify your expenses, your employer reimburses you. What would he/she have to use?
Whether it’s called a conference, convention, institute, or roundtable, it’s been my experience that these events are well worth it. A forward thinking employer should think so, too.