After two years of restrictions, the world has finally started to travel again. That means business trips are back on the agenda, and we’re starting to see conferences reconvene in person. This year, saw events like the RSA security conference move back to live venues as people that missed face-to-face interactions flocked back to the halls.
Your IT department might be choosing which tech-focused conferences to attend. With many no doubt vying for your attention, here’s how to prioritize and make your attendance count.
Why are you going?
Not everyone goes to a conference for the same reason. Deciding early what you want to get from your time can maximize your return. Education is often at the top of the list, but consider how you want to learn. Some conferences offer hands-on workshops, while other focus on higher-level presentations.
Which you choose will depend on your knowledge level and on your department’s maturity when it comes to the conference topic. Some conferences offer a strong element of training, enabling staff to learn practical skills. Those are useful for companies that are already deploying specific technologies and want to level up their skill set.
Higher-level strategic sessions might be more appropriate for those putting together a broad strategy. There’s no point attending a workshop on training Tensorflow models if you’re still assessing the potential ROI from AI adoption.
Some learning takes place outside the classroom, and that’s where networking becomes important. Conferences can be a great way to connect with your peers and learn from their successes (or mistakes). They can also be good places to build relationships and form communities of practices. User groups are especially useful here.
With this in mind, take a look not just at the conference agenda, but at who is attending. The speaker list is obviously important, but any information on other attendees will help to decide what value you get in the hallways, the dining room, and the end-of-day social events.
Who should attend?
Finally, spare a thought for who to send. Don’t take all the slots yourself. This is your chance to help build a robust set of long-term skills in your department by assessing weak spots in staff knowledge and using conferences to help fill those gaps.
Build a map of your tech employees’ skills and take a moment to consider how you’d like them to develop. What roles and responsibilities might they fill in the future? What must they learn and what relationships should they build to get there?
Extend the value
Finally, don’t see the conference as a single event. Take steps to maximise its value after the doors close. When staff return, ensure they’re prepared to pass what they’ve learned onto others. They can discuss what practical skills they’ve gained and the insights they enjoyed. If they connected with peers, they might pass on that information and discuss what other techies are doing in the field. Perhaps they might even have learned what the competition is up to. You can formalise this information sharing in the form of ‘lunch and learn’ sessions.
After all, a day or two away from the office, along with travel and per diem costs, can put a dent in your department’s productivity. The more that you can do to justify that investment, the better.