If you ask people what’s important to them in the workplace, you’ll get a variety of answers. If the workplace is toxic, they’ll say they just want to be respected (or left alone if they’re micromanaged). If the workplace is fine, but the work is dull and the position provides no growth, they’ll want an opportunity to learn and do more.
Either way, it’s important for employers to encourage and enable employees to refine current skills, develop new in-demand skills, and collaborate within innovative teams.
To keep your workforce engaged, and not running to the competition, you need growth opportunities. One way to encourage professional development is conference attendance. It can be hard when project timelines and budgets are tight. You’re not sure about the lofty conference price tags. You may worry about the coverage when employees are away from their desks. You might even wonder if they’ll be proactive and engaged enough while at the event to get the most out of it.
Fortunately, there are ways to satisfy your employees’ needs while also guaranteeing you get a return on your investment.
Encourage employees to submit presentation proposals
When employees submit speaking proposals that are accepted, the conferences sponsors often waive or at least reduce fees. The reduction in fees helps you from a budgeting standpoint; it encourages employees to be proactive and take ownership and pride in their work.
Not all proposals will be accepted, but completing a proposal helps employees refine interests in what they want to learn and contribute to the pool of knowledge. It’s always a good exercise for anyone to write out an elevator pitch and outline and pull work samples together.
Conference sponsors often send out a discount code to those who submit proposals that aren’t accepted, which you can use if you still value attendance at that event.
Recommend they go to conferences for your potential customers
It’s great to network with and learn from peers, but you can get even more value from conference attendance when employees go directly where your intended customers are. They’ll gather insights on how other vendors present their products and services, talk to potential customers firsthand to see what they’re truly looking for, and see how the company’s messaging connects (or doesn’t align).
Try not to just send them to the same conference in the same industry that covers virtually the same information every year. Rather than sending employees to just where their peers are, or the competition is, you’ll gain insight into your buyers’ expectations.
Ask employees to present strategies and apply new skills
You don’t need formal presentations or reports to see the rewards from sharing newfound knowledge and approaches with teammates. You could set up a coffee break or a luncheon where everyone sits around a table (or watches over a video presentation) and just have an informal discussion.
Tip: Whatever approach you take, make sure you have employees share their findings fairly quickly after attending the conference. Otherwise, they’ll forget insights and the sense of urgency will be replaced by real looming deadlines.
Promoting a positive culture for learning and networking is great for the morale of your organization as well as its bottom line. Learning new ideas, reaching customers where they’re interested in connecting, and sharing information across the organization all create a workforce that is more satisfied and capable of solving problems.