Are you Maximising your Board's Return on Attendance at Conferences?

10 min read
Aug 10, 2023 10:50:07 AM

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Is your Board regularly adjusting budgets depending on market and industry fluctuations and unexpected circumstances for your organisations?  When belts need to be tightened budget wise, it is very tempting for the finance committee to recommend reducing the spend for the Board itself. Particularly when traditionally the full Board or individuals attend annual Board conferences and seminars. Usually, conference attendance incurs travel and accommodation costs, as well as a meal allowances, registration fees, etc. And there is nothing more infuriating than sending some or all the Board members of a not for profit / for purpose Board to a conference and when asked what they learned or gained from attending the expensive event receiving responses like:

  • “Same old, same old, we didn’t hear anything new”.
  • “There were a few good speakers, but it really doesn’t apply to us”.
  • “We’re too big for some of the ideas we heard”.
  • “We’re too small to even consider the ideas”.

If this sounds familiar, let’s look at a system to ensure that you receive a (R.O.A.) Return on Attendance for any face-to-face conferences, seminars, etc. that your Board members attend in the future.

Your Board members’ daily inboxes are generally filled with invitations to multiple events ranging from free of charge or complimentary, through to thousands of dollars to register for a 2+ day event. The delete button is very attractive and takes seconds to tap, however, might you be tapping and deleting something that may be of benefit to another Board member, other than yourself? Or someone who has more free time than you.

Step One:

Decide what the criteria is for Board attendance at any face-to-face event that the Board will pay for. Depending on work and family commitments, some Board members are more available and flexible than others, and this needs to be considered. If Board seminars attendance or Board professional development is to become a line item on the budget, then it pays to have a criteria for what gets partially or fully funded. The paid conference attendance criteria may include:

  • The conference program addresses industry trends, current challenges within similar organisations to yours, potential solutions and problem solving for your specific needs.
  • Your peers and competitors will be attending, and it is worthwhile networking with them as well as keeping up to date on staffing movements within their organisations and potential mergers.
  • The program speakers are regarded as experts in your field.
  • Your CEO or senior managers are presenting a workshop, keynote presentation or being a panel member and your support would be appreciated.
  • An opportunity to brainstorm with other people in your industry or profession on potential collaborations and/or alliances.
  • State and/or Federal government officials may be represented on the program, and you will have an opportunity to network with them.
  • A trade display area where you will be able to check out what the latest products and services are for your industry or profession.
  • Future Board members for your Board would be in attendance and you would have an opportunity to network with them.

It is not necessary to have a policy on conference attendance, however, a clear definition of expectations can assist to maximise your organisation’s return on conference attendance.

Step Two:

Attendees need to be clear on WHY they want to attend the event. Let’s consider one or two Board members who have seen an interesting interstate conference that they would like to attend and would like the Board to consider funding part or all the registration and travel expenses. Ideally, they have given the Board enough time to consider their request as this would not really qualify as a time critical decision request. Their proposal to the Board would include, WHY they want to attend, WHAT they hope to achieve from attending, the potential costs involved – registration, flights, accommodation, taxis, or rental car depending on location, meal allowance, etc. It would also be useful for the participant to include the number of hours of their own time that they would be volunteering in their attendance of this event.

What often helps getting a conference attendance approval request granted is to include HOW they will share the knowledge they gain at the conference.

The Board attendee/s commits to give a mini presentation of what was learned / observed / discovered at the event that is relevant to your Board and organisation. Basically, they commit to share the key take-aways from the event at the next Board meeting after the conference. These days it is quite common for conference organisers post event, to share PowerPoint slides, handouts, course notes, etc. with attendees. This makes the attendees task easier for compiling the mini presentation. However, note taking throughout the event is critical for the attendee to justify their conference attendance.

Sometimes it is worth the conference attendance investment to be told that overall xyz was covered well and our organisation is already doing 80% of what was covered. “We are ahead of our industry right now. To stay ahead it would be useful for us to do……”. Or “I spoke with one of our competitors from JJJ and they are expanding into Qld” or “BBB is shutting down their regional centres this quarter”. This is all valuable information and may not be common knowledge within your industry.

Step Three:

Don’t skimp on travel expenses. Catching an early morning flight to attend a full day conference can be false economy. There are dozens of reasons why flights are delayed or cancelled, particularly early morning flights. Arriving late or missing half the conference is frustrating. Drive or fly in the night/day before, leave nothing to chance. For the sake of the extra night’s accommodation, you have a chance to get a good night’s sleep and arrive at the event, wide awake and keen to learn. Post event, depending on the length of the conference, allow yourself at least 3-4 hours for you to summarise your thoughts and new knowledge gathered at the conference, follow up with key players and prepare your Board report while your memory is fresh. If you can do this in the conference city/location, that is perfect because you are still in conference mode. 

Step Four:

Create a conference checklist. This is a must and again ensures your Return on Attendance.

  • Thoroughly read the conference program and highlight the breakout or workshop sessions that you want to attend. You may decide to go to the additional conference events (dinner or city tour) or not. These social events can maximise networking opportunities for you and your Board.
  • Remember your business cards. Whether your business card shows your role on your Board or is your personal business card, include them. As daggy as business cards may sound today, they are still the easiest way for someone to contact you post event. Today many people use the back of their business card to include a QR code of their LinkedIn profile and that again makes it easy for the people you are meeting to connect. Some conference organisers include apps with attendees and that really helps maximising networking opportunities if you use the app.
  • LinkedIn is a great pre and post conference research tool. Make time to seek out the conference program speakers on LinkedIn and send a short message. “Hi Jason, I am looking forward to hearing your presentation on ABC at the XXX conference in Melbourne next week”. Don’t be surprised if the speaker responds with a friendly message along the lines of, “Make sure you make yourself known to me at the conference”. Professional speakers often have limited contact with conference delegates prior to the event, and usually their main contact is the conference organisers. They are often grateful that someone has reached out to them. We will come back to LinkedIn in the post event follow up.
  • How do you prefer to take notes at a conference? Be sure to include a notebook, iPad or note taking tool, and an extra pen or two if you still take handwritten notes like I do.
  • Include a pack of coloured post it notes and a highlight pen with your conference bag or satchel. Post it notes are handy when you meet people who don’t have cards or anything to write on.

Pro-Active Attendance at the Conference

  • Arrive early for events and aim to sit towards the front of the room, not the back row.
  • If the conference is table seating, act like the host and not the guest. Invite strangers to join you, remember every best friend was once a perfect stranger.
  • Look for the people who appear to be a little lost or unsure. Sometimes they are this specific conference first timers, international guests and out of towners. Potentially they will appreciate your warmth, friendliness and making them feel welcome. You will be remembered.
  • In workshop situations, when there is an opportunity to ask questions, take the opportunity. “Thanks Jason, that was an interesting point you made about the industry decline. May name is XX, I chair a NFP Board, and my question is………….”. Now the room of attendees knows who you are as does the speaker. Don’t be surprised if people approach you after that session and comment on your question or ask about your organisation. Be seen, get known move ahead and promote your Board along the way.
  • If more than one Board member attends the event, pre-arrange to connect for instance at the afternoon tea break each day and compare notes on what each of you have learned that is relevant to your Board. Before you leave the event, make sure you spend at least 15 minutes with the other Board member/s going through your notes and summarising the key points that you have heard. Nominate a person who will summarise the notes and take the lead in presenting the conference summary at the next meeting as per your commitment.


Professional Follow Up After the Conference

You will never maximise your return on your conference attendance if you don’t follow up and take action.

  • Summarise the key points that you are taking away from the keynote presenters and workshops. Use your highlight pen to mark the most important points.
  • Clarify how these key points are relevant to your Board. E.g., What looming trends or government decisions, or policy changes may impact your Board within the next 6-12 months?
  • Are there opportunities for additional income streams or innovative diversification based on your key points?
  • As soon as possible after the conference prepare your short presentation for the next Board meeting. Share websites, names of relevant speakers, links to reports etc. Not only will this be good for your own clarification, it will definitely justify not only the expense of you representing your Board at the event, but also share important knowledge that may also be relevant to Board member’s individual careers.
  • At the end of your proposed Board presentation, include a summary of the conference attendance costs, the number of hours you invested in attending the event plus pre and post hours travelling to and from the event. Basically, you are justifying and qualifying your Return on Attendance.
  • LinkedIn is a great tool for post conference follow up. Again, send a LinkedIn message or invitation to the speakers you enjoyed, “Congratulations on your presentation at XYZ, it was excellent. I would like to add you to my LinkedIn connections”. “Great to meet you at the XYZ conference. I sat beside you at the lunch on Day 2. I would like to add…”. Memory joggers help people who don’t have systems in their life.  Alternately you can send a message summarising your key take away and ask what their key takeaway was”.
  • If you have enjoyed the conference, congratulate the conference organisers and the sponsors on a worthwhile event.

Systems save you time, money, and most of all energy. Don’t reinvent the wheel with every conference or event you attend. Once you have set up the process outlined in this article, you have it for life, and you will always maximise your return on attendance.

In true networking spirit, feel free to share this article with other Board members in your network.

Disclosure: This article was generated entirely by Robyn Henderson without assistance from an AI-based system.

Super Checklist and Systems to Maximise

Your Board's Return on Attendance at Conferences?

  • Board to decide on the criteria for Board members to attend conferences at the Board’s expense.
  • Be clear on the WHY you want to attend the conference and potential travel and registration expenses, as well as your time commitment.
  • Identify HOW you will disseminate information heard / learned at the conference and its relevance, to the Board, post event.
  • Avoid false economy with travel expenses.
  • Be prepared. Create a pre-conference checklist.
  • Tap into LinkedIn as a pre and post conference research tool by connecting with conference speakers and attendees.
  • Commit to pro-active attendance at the conference.
  • Befriend strangers. Act like the host not the guest.
  • When given the opportunity, introduce yourself and ask questions of the workshop / panel facilitators.
  • Before you leave the conference, compile your and the other Board members attending, list of key points and ideas relevant to your Board.
  • Ideally within 48 hours of attending the conference, prepare your presentation about the key points covered, their relevance to your Board and any recommendations for the Board based on what you saw, heard, and experienced. Share websites, report links, etc. Include total travel and registration costs as well as the number of hours you invested in travelling to and from and attending the conference. This will help to calculate the Return on Attendance of this conference.
  • Always follow up after the conference with the key people you have met at the event. If you have enjoyed the event, congratulate the organisers and the sponsors on the success of the conference.
  • Finally, take action on the ideas you have heard and seen at the conference. When you value your time, you will maximise the information you have learned.

Remember networking is a lot like watching sunrises, if you don’t show up you will never know what you missed. You showed up and actively participated in the conference. So now it’s time to maximise your attendance at the conference by sharing your new knowledge and ideas and how it can be applied and adapted for your Board.

If you're looking for a tool to streamline your Board processes, check out BoardPro - an all-in-one software solution designed specifically for Boards and busy CEOs!

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