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Conferences – The Business Case

Building a business case for conference attendance requires research and thought

A costly exercise

Conferences are great, aren’t they – exhausting, but pretty good nonetheless! Unfortunately it can be a pretty tough road getting your boss to agree that there is a business benefit to your attending what appears, on the surface, to be a bit of a party.

There are no two ways around it, conferences are expensive, registration fees are just part of it, on top of that you need to find the money to cover travel, accommodation and any other out of pocket expenses that you may incur. These costs are prohibitive for the majority of us to pay for out of our own pockets, so we look to employers to fund, or at least heavily subsidize, our attendance.

Articulate the benefits

Justifying the value of this investment can be difficult. While there is real value in conference attendance from many different angles, they tend to suffer a bit from their reputation as a ‘bit of a junket’.

How can you articulate the benefits to your organization that will come from your attendance at a conference – for example the wonderful itSMF Norway ‘ITSM with Superheroes of the World’ event in Oslo this April?

A few useful questions

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help fill out your proposal:

  • What is the conference about?
  • Who will I meet there?
  • Why is it good for me to meet and network with those people?
  • What personal-professional connections will I make? What professional connections will I make?
  • What will I learn there?
  • How will this learning enhance my personal and professional development?
  • How will this learning enhance what I can offer my employer?
  • How will my employer’s reputation benefit from me attending the conference?
  • Are there any practical benefits that will result?

In the case of this event, and any other conference you are looking to attend, you can simply look through the program to find presentations that will help you improve your current way of working, or resolve issues you may be facing.

Plenty of inspiration

The varied program in Oslo will provide plenty of inspiration whether you are struggling with the challenges of dealing with multi-vendor environments, wanting to find ways to improve your current ITSM processes, needing to improve the communication between your team members…the list goes on.

Be specific about what you will do to improve business outcomes as a result of conference attendance, express this in terms of business value.

Include in your request how your attendance at the conference will help the company in multiple ways. Identify sessions on topics related to current ways of working as well as sessions on emerging areas for possible growth. Determine who will be attending (customers, suppliers, and competitors could all be exhibitors or attendees) and offer to set up meetings with people who may be able to help your organization.

A detailed proposal

Here are some suggestions you may be able to offer that may help build out your business case:

  • Prior to attending this event, spend time with your team to determine a few sessions that they see as being particularly valuable, and attend those sessions
  • Build out a summary of each session, with links to available collateral, so that everyone can benefit from the session
  • Hold a debrief session one week after the conference
  • Set up a lunchtime discussion group, and go through one of the sessions and talk about the important points at each meeting

Be prepared

Be prepared for resistance – Anticipate your supervisor’s objections and have your counterarguments ready. Maybe it’s not in the budget, or your boss can’t spare you from the office. For each objection, prepare a response in advance: know the exact cost, have suggestions for who will cover your work, and be ready to describe specific relevant sessions, for example.

Be prepared to negotiate. If you don’t get the resounding “yes” you were hoping for, you can always offer options. If the objection is financial, perhaps you can offer to pay a portion of the registration fee yourself or to use frequent-flier miles for the airfare. As well as providing some financial incentive to the business this demonstrates your commitment.

Ultimately conference attendance can provide value to your organization, but it can also provide very valuable career growth for you as an individual. Do not underestimate the value of the relationships that are formed at these events and the impact they can have on your career path.

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