Go With Your Colleagues to Conferences

5 reasons why it is better to send everyone to one conference, rather than spreading out professional development.

November 9, 2015

Professional development money is tight.

Dollars to attend conferences are scarce.

The number of professional conferences, at least in the edtech and online learning world, has grown.

Understaffing is the new normal, so it becomes a real challenge to manage ongoing operations when folks are away for a conference.

All these realities make it more difficult to figure out your units/departments professional development conference strategy.

Should the people in your group pursue a conference strategy that maximizes how many different events are attended, or should everyone go to the same conference?

Is it better to spread out the professional conference travel of your group, sending people to different gathering in order to bring back as a diverse a set of insights as possible?

Or is it better to find a way to send as many people as possible in the same group to the same conference?

After giving this question much thought, I have come to the (maybe surprising) conclusion that a concentrated conference strategy (everyone going to the same event) is the way to go.

Surprising, because in many ways sending everyone to the same conference seems like a risk. What if the conference is not very good? How will all the work on campus get done if everyone is at a conference? Won’t having everyone go to the same conference limit the amount of new information and insights that could have been gained if folks went to a bunch of different events?

These are all valid concerns, but I’ll make 5 arguments as to why all of you in your team should attend the same event:

1. The Best Conversations About Work Happen Away from Work:

Why is it that it takes going miles and miles off campus to have really good discussions about the work back on campus?

Getting out of our daily routines, and getting some distance, certainly helps. Over a meal or a walk at a conference we are often less distracted than we are in a meeting on campus.

There is also something to the impact of our conversations of being exposed to new external ideas. Our minds are open to learning new things at conferences, and we bring this mindset to our conversations with our colleagues.

2. Titles, Roles and Hierarchies Have Less Power Away from Campus:

Titles, roles, and hierarchies are collaboration killers and innovation slayers.

My dream is that our organizations evolve to where the job title is obsolete, and the reporting hierarchy has been assigned to the dustbin of history.

Idealistic? Naive? Maybe. But titles, roles, and hierarchies seem to have less power the further away one gets from campus. This shift encourages better and more honest conversations.

3. Utilizing New Ideas From Conferences Requires A Critical Mass of People:

We all know that good ideas are easy, it is execution that is hard.

Even the best idea from a conference will have little value unless it can be put into practice.

If a critical mass of folks from one school gets excited about an idea, then that idea has a much better chance of becoming a reality.

4. Having More People From A Single School Makes An Impression at a Conference:

An important (if little discussed) value of going to professional conferences is having the innovations at your school become better known in the larger community. It is important that the institution that you come from be known as a place where good things are happening. This is important both for retention and for recruiting - as well as the for general morale of the team.

Sending a bunch of folks from one school can make a strong impression at a conference.  The more folks from one place who attend the stronger the message that the school takes professional development and sharing seriously.

5.  Conferences Are More Fun With Colleagues:

The opportunity to hang out some with colleagues from work always make a conference feel more enjoyable and more productive. You get to see a different side of your colleagues.  You see their strengths in new ways.

I’ve had some of the best conversations about our shared campus work at conferences. It is at conferences that I’ve bonded most strongly with the people that I work with on a daily basis.

What is your experience going with colleagues to conferences?



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