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No More Downsized Conferences... Teach Your Attendees to Sell Their Management on Sending

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

Stock prices are down, meetings are being canceled, and some corporations are cutting back sharply on their financial support for employees who want to attend conferences. Technology User groups are finding that corporation-sponsored attendance is dropping or being canceled altogether.

Don't despair. You can DO something about it. Here's a strategy for making companies willing and even enthusiastic to send their employees to your meetings and conferences.

Boosting attendance is one of my frequent assignments for clients like the Cyborg Users' Group, ADP's Meeting of the Minds client-user meetings, and the American Payroll Association Congress. How do I do it? In my talks and seminars, I start by asking all attendees this question:

Do you have an appointment set up with your upper management to report on what you learned at this meeting?

It is surprising how few attendees are required to do this. I always recommend that attendees take the initiative and ask to give a verbal presentation to their manager or to the committee that okayed the budget for them to go.

I teach them to follow this simple outline in their verbal reports, following the basic framework that I recommend for all conference attendees. By making careful preparations and keeping quality notes, attendees should be able to give management a strong presentation that makes a good case on why they should return the next year.

The Fripp Conference Outline

What did they do:

1. Before attending the conference. (Including)

*Make a list of vendors and individuals they want to meet.

*Study the brochure to select best sessions to attend.

*If several people attend and relevant sessions conflict, coordinate who attends what so different individuals can report back on each session.

*Prepare a list of specific questions they need or want answered. Carefully note the answers and their sources.

2. During the conference.

* Note what was learned from the keynote speakers, breakout sessions, conversations with other attendees, and vendors met at the trade show portion of the conference.

3. After the conference.

* Do a debriefing with others who attended to share what everyone learned.

* Prepare a verbal and brief written report for management. Practice on the verbal presentation on friends or family.

The opening thirty seconds of a presentation is the most important part. I recommend that everyone starts their report to management with something like this:

Sending me to the such-and-such conference was an incredible investment for the company. Here's why.

* Conclude with specific recommendations for the company, based on new knowledge.

Why Bother?

Does this seem like a lot of work on your part? Not if you want to keep your attendance up! Companies don't want to spend thousands of dollars unless they can see a payoff. Your attendance may continue to drop unless your attendees can show their companies the immediate and long-term value of what they have experienced. When they do, chances are that their companies will be happy to send them to your next meeting or conference.

And, since a presentation to management can be a stressful experience for your attendees, some are bound to ask you the same question: "Why Bother?" To sell your attendees on the note-taking and reporting process, stress the following points:

* Reporting shows management they are company-minded and see the bottom line.

* Reporting shows management they take advantage of opportunities.

* Reporting increases they chances of attending future meetings.

* By attending, they personally gain important and transferable skills.

This last thought should be a big selling point. In a downsized, right-sized, re-engineered, outsourcing world, everyone needs to upgrade skills constantly. Even when individuals have support from a management that believes in education, they must constantly resell the benefits on why it is a good investment to send them.

What if a company won't pay for your attendees to come? Some will come anyway. Many people I've met at the American Payroll Association conferences used vacation time to attend because their managers didn't see the value. However, they constantly resold the company on the worth of the conference -- with a big payoff. When their current manager or a new one realized the value of the experience, some were actually reimbursed for attending past conferences, and their vacation time was restored.

To keep your attendance up, convince your attendees of the importance of reporting back to management. If you'd like me to do it FOR you, I'd be glad to. I tell all conference attendees to get smarter every day because all skills are transferable: Never be concerned with being employed. Be concerned with being EMPLOYABLE! That is the true security.

Patricia Fripp CSP, CPAE is a San Francisco-based executive speech coach and professional speaker on Change, Customer Service, Promoting Business, and Communication Skills. She is the author of Get What You Want! and Past-President of the National Speakers Association.,


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