The View From the Training Room Part 3 – Your 3-Step Guide to Making the Most of Conferences

To round off this series of posts taking a closer look at the different forms of training, it’s time to take a look at what are invariably the biggest events of them all – the conferences.

Not just politics

Many people associate the word “conference” with the annual gatherings that each major political party hold each year – you know, the sort that get lots of media attention while selected politicians make speeches about how the world should be.

To a fashion, that’s the basic structure of a conference. It’s a gathering of people to discuss specific topical matters.

And to that end, such gatherings can be extremely useful.

Conferences in financial services

Conferences in our industry tend to be held by the following groups of people:

First of all, industry representative bodies run these on a reasonably regular basis. They don’t tend to be restricted to the annual gathering to discuss the state of the organisation either. There are usually plenty of topical matters going on at any one time that necessitate big get-togethers of this sort.

Take the insurance world for example. At the moment, I know of conferences being planned on a variety of subjects, from upcoming data protection legislation to the new Senior Managers and Senior Insurance Managers’ regimes. 

From the wider regulatory perspective, the worlds of financial crime and cyber-crime are also ones where conferences are regularly convened at the moment. The impact of European regulation on various aspects of operations is also a regular catalyst for conferences to be held.

Then, of course you have the big annual conferences and summits. These tend to be more of the “state of the nation” type agendas, but to make sure these are also of wider value, they often include segments on specific topical issues; often including guest speakers from government or industry.

You then have conferences organised by independent training providers, who feel that such an event would be useful for their delegates. These again tend to be held if there is a specific event or theme that needs to be discussed, particularly if it’s a big topic.

Either way, there’s a lot of value to be derived from such events. But first of all, we need to look at the key components of a successful conference, and how to get the best out of them.

Valuable content

The success of conferences tends to live or die by the quality of the content that’s being presented to the delegates. No-one wants to take time out of a busy schedule to sit and listen to a load of opinions from different people for a whole day.

Delegates want to be both educated and informed, and a balance between these two elements is usually what makes for a successful event.

Be my guest

Guest speakers can be a powerful addition to any conference. But particularly in our field, because regulation looms large in everything we do, those conferences which include speakers from, for example, regulators, government departments or high-profile lawyers who are close to a specific subject, tend to be popular. People want to hear views on particular subjects straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were. Or at least, from someone who is closely connected to it.

Opportunity to network

Conferences tend to be very intense days (or multiple days for some of the bigger conferences). Therefore, successful events achieve a balance between speeches and presentations, on the one hand, and smaller group sessions, such as breakouts, which allow groups of people to interact more closely.

The danger is that otherwise, if the conference has hundreds of delegates attending (which can happen), you can spend the whole day sat in a seat and not really speaking to anyone. Which would be a real shame because with so many like-minded people in one room, the opportunities for both making new contacts and sharing best practice are incredible. Just as long as the agenda and format of the conference allow you enough time to mingle.

3 Steps to Conference Success

So, having described these events, how do you make sure you go about getting the best value from them? After all, they tend to be quite expensive and can take you away from your job for 1-2 days at a time. Here are 3 steps to take to get the best value for your money:

1 Choose your event wisely

Having conducted a thorough search for conferences and summits in the areas of relevance to you, take a close look, particularly at the content of each conference. If you can, got to the provider’s website and see if a detailed agenda is available. Look beyond the title. There has to be enough relevant content to justify taking you away from your office for a day or two.

2 Make lots of notes

If a large part of the day is dedicated to presentations, then make sure you write down as much relevant information (or points you find interesting) as you can. Also, if the provider offers them, try to get hold of as many slide deck packs as possible (although not everyone will be willing to share their slides widely). This is because months after you have attended, this is the stuff that you’ll remember. If you don’t write it down, you’ll forget it.

3 Network, network, network

Having so many like-minded people in room is a fantastic opportunity to network for whatever reason suits you best. You may be looking to drum up some new business contacts, or you may just be looking to seek other people’s views on a particular subject that concerns you. Either way, make the most of breaks and breakout sessions to talk to people. Opportunities to get exposure to other industry participants like this don’t come around that often.

Happy conference hunting

Finally, the good news is that unlike political conferences, there’s no season as such, and these events tend to be held all year round. So, good luck with your search and make the most of the conference opportunities on offer – especially as a definitive resource guide for conferences and other forms of training events is at hand, allowing you to keep up to date with the latest developments.

Martyn Oughton    

By Martyn Oughton a Professional Member of the International Compliance Association (ICA).  Martyn now writes a regular blog for Industry Events Online focusing on the importance of training in all aspects of compliance. Read Martyn's other publications at Martyn's Writers' Residence website.

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