I know it can be a hurtle to leaving your building to go to a conference. We think we can't get away because so much will not be completed without us. But, how can we improve if we don't focus on our own professional learning? I remind myself every year that my attendance matters not only to me but also to those who will benefit from my learning. Here are ten reasons why you should make this leap:
1. Finding Motivation. What can I say? From the moment I enter the door to the opening keynote speaker until the end where I stumble back to my car, I am excited and cannot wait to learn. The banter, the conversations, the signs, the booths, the displays, the learning all energize me.
2. Networking. Oh the people I have met at conferences and the connection that I have made to improve what I do, can never be understated. Attend sessions, but also attend socials, go to interest group discussions, wander the halls, for these are the places that the most meaningful conversations happen. We openly chat with one or two people at a time. The conversation deepens and we relay the intimate details of our own experiences, sharing our struggles and successes and finding meaning in each others stories and ideas. Those connections are where we seek wisdom and develop our interests. You may also build a relationship or two that may improve or change the course of your career.
4. Meet new vendors and suppliers. I know most of us generally don't enjoy talking to sales people, but the trade show exhibit hall is a proving ground for products that we would use in our profession. Go out there. Explore. Watch some product demos. Enter some drawings. Tell vendors what you like and dislike about their products. Trust me, they are listening and they want to provide products that we will buy and use.
5. Focus on Practice. Ask yourself, what do I need to learn today? You may find in attending a session that you find a new way of doing something. Look for those sessions that meet your needs in the place that you are at currently. This is your opportunity to explore or survey an idea with low commitment. The conference is your oyster.
6. Opportunities. Are you underemployed or not employed in your chosen field? Do you want to step into a different area in your field? Would you like to move to another region of the country or in your state? A conference may be the place to make the connection for an interview or job application. You may just meet your next boss!
7. Position Yourself as an Expert. Do you have an excellent program to share? Would you like to break into public speaking? It is not going to happen from your armchair at home. Attending conferences is the first step in establishing yourself as active in the industry. Before you will be invited to speak, you must develop a reputation as an expert. This will not happen at home. Attend conferences, but also apply to present. Look around at what is being presented and find what you are good at or what is missing, and offer worthwhile sessions. You may be delivering the keynote someday.
8. Published and Publishing. Sometimes, the latest and greatest book on what we wanted to learn about is found first at a conference. Or...you have decided you would like to write a book. The conference may be just the place to run your idea by a publisher or two in the field and see if there is some traction for your idea. When are you going to get the chance otherwise?
9. Commitment to Profession. Your profession needs you. Have you considered volunteering to serve your profession at a conference? Not only will you develop those leadership skills, you will be looking at the conference from a different perspective. In addition, you might also get a paid admission free, a cool t-shirt, and a lasting memorable experience that serves your learning community.
10. Have Fun. Careful, you just might like it. Conferences allow us to approach our profession from a different angle mixing the social element into many learning opportunities and an occasional side trip to a theme park, golfing, or an afternoon by the pool in order to maximize the travel time you are taking away from work. Don't worry, you earned it.
So get out there. Find a conference in your field. Sign up. Make your travel plans and attend. Ask questions. Share your insights and you may just find that you have learned something new! See you on the Exhibit floor!