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07.22.2014 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

4 Reasons You Should Attend Professional Conferences

If you want to expand your business horizon, professional conferences are a must.

Okay. I admit it. I’m a conference junkie. The nature of my work gives me access to a great many professional conferences, and if I’m not careful, I could find myself literally attending a conference of one type or another on a weekly basis.

Since that wouldn't be practical, I've learned to be selective about which conferences I do attend. I’m suggesting you do the same if you’re serious about your own growth and development and the further expansion of your business.

For example, last week I was privileged to attend the Fielding Graduate University summer session in Chicago. As an alumna of FGU, I am blessed to be a part of a scholar-practitioner community that works to generate a more humane, just, and sustainable world.

Within this community, I am exposed to the cutting-edge work that impacts political, social, economic, and ecological systems—at both the national and global level. Throughout the conference, I was privileged to join in robust and challenging discussions with thought leaders from such places as Senegal, Germany, Japan, South Africa, the Netherlands, and, of course, the United States and Canada.

I left Chicago energized and hopeful about the future of our planet. It’s amazing what happens when you turn off the news long enough to see the progress really being made. It doesn’t get any better. My mind is still spinning from all that I learned and the brilliant people I encountered.

As a result of this amazing experience, I want to share four important reasons why you should consider regularly attending professional conferences related to your own field.

1. Circle of Influence

It doesn't matter what field you’re in. If you want to expand your horizons, you need to expand your Circle of Influence. At the FGU conference, I was able to reconnect with old friends and further solidify our relationships. We met over coffee, at breakfast, for dinner, in the hallways, and during sessions. The agenda was simple enough: to offer one another encouragement and support for the work we are doing.

Additionally, I met a great many new people who I know will become future friends and colleagues. There is nothing more diminishing than working in a vacuum. It’s important to expand your Circle of Influence not so much for what they can do for you, but for what you can do for them.

Professional conferences give you an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who value and appreciate your work and vice versa. The value of these connections not only help you reconsider and perhaps redesign your own work, it also opens up doors of potential that may never have been realized otherwise.

2.  Creativity

In learning what global thought leaders are doing, I came to a deeper understanding of my own work and how to creatively integrate several best practices into future endeavors. There is nothing that compares to a room full of creative minds who are making things happen in their respective professional environments.

When you attend a conference in your own field, you want to be deliberate about the sessions you choose to attend. The point is to learn creative ways to specifically address some of the challenges you might be facing.

I find that my own creativity is often ignited by the discussions that occur in a session. When you’re in a room of successful people, take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. Ideas will begin to percolate. Tap into the creativity and ask yourself how such a practice can be implemented into your own business.

Think of a conference environment as an opportunity to expand your creative mind. It’s like mining for gold in your own backyard. All you have to do is be present and open to new perspectives.

3. Collaboration

As you expand your Circle of Influence and increase your creativity, you come to realize the potential for greater collaboration. If you’re in a competitive field, e.g., sales, this may sound a bit counter-intuitive to you.

Trust me on this one. In the world of social marketing, generosity is the key to building relationships. Professional conferences create space for collaborative relationships to emerge. You want to be open for that potential.

When we come together in a collaborative way, the work becomes more significant, our potential to reach a larger audience is greater, and our work is more fun and interesting along the way.

Over the last year alone, I am amazed by the people I have met at various conferences. Several of those people have morphed into collaborative efforts wherein we contract with one another, engage in master mind opportunities, or refer one another work that we ourselves are not equipped to do.

4. Crystalization

I don’t know about you, but I always hit the New Year with a revitalized understanding of what I hope to accomplish over the next twelve months. Somewhere along the line, however, projects shift and change, and I rarely make the time to stop and crystalize my vision, strategy, and the accompanying objectives.

One of the by-products of attending a professional conference, I find, is the opportunity to do just that. While the schedule may be hectic, I find that all the relational connections coupled with new and invigorating ideas catapult me to take time to rethink my direction.

I don’t typically make too many drastic changes in my business plan. That wouldn't be prudent. I do, however, spend some time each evening thinking about how my newfound connections and information might meld into the existing plan. Then, when I return home, I often have a mapped out version of how I’m going to integrate this new learning into my work.

Is there a need to set some new goals? Are there additional resources I want to tap into? Follow-up connections to be made? A shift in my business strategy that needs to occur? Do I need to dive deeper into some additional learning?

If you’re maximizing your conference performance, you should ideally come away more energized and focused for the work you are doing. Being at a professional conference is like being held captive in a think-tank away from your day-to-day obligations. Sometimes we need to take a step away to revitalize our approach.

Here’s my challenge: If you’re not in the habit of attending professional conferences related to your field, do a Google search and locate at least one conference that has an agenda specific to your needs. If you have an employer, reach out to that leader and request support for your attendance. Many employers appreciate and even expect you to stay at the top of your game. Conferences are one way of doing just that.

Question: What’s the most important outcome you've ever has as the result of attending a professional conference?

[reminder]

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. July 22, 2014