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Cleaning the Fridge

Have you ever second-guessed the expiration date of something that has been in your fridge for a while then instantly regretted it when that distinct smell of expired food hit your nose?

Or maybe there’s that mystery container in the work fridge that has turned every color of the rainbow over the past 2 months but no one is willing to touch it to throw it out?

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Don’t let your skills become outdated at your job.

The world around us is constantly innovating and changing.

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What are you doing to keep your skills up to date? Sometimes we can lose sight of what is going on in our industry in the day to day grind of getting things done.

If you ever find yourself telling a new co-worker, “That’s how we do things around here,” pause a minute and ask yourself, “Why? Is this really the best way?”

How will you know if you’re not keeping up in your industry?

Conferences

Industry conferences are one of my favorite ways to stay up to date in my field. I like conferences that include a mix of real world users, vendors, and academics.

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The real world users provide a concrete example of the pros and cons of the new approach they have implemented. You can often ask questions of your own about their experience and learn from their mistakes.

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Vendors can help paint a picture of new possibilities with their products that are just coming out or are soon to be released. I find this a great way to get new ideas flowing and look at how I do things in a different way.

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Academics help show what is on the horizon. Often the research is in a very controlled environment but this gives a preview of what new products and services could be developing over the next few years.

The most valuable part of conferences is the people. Connecting with different people goes a long way in keeping you up to date on what is going on and also gives you resources to turn to when you have questions.

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Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi has a few chapters everyone should read before attending their next conference. It is from a marketer’s perspective so some things may not apply to you but I really like his tips on what to avoid at conferences.

For example, hanging out with the first person you meet for the entire conference and not meeting anyone new or just being a business card dispenser without actually getting to know people.

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What to Attend?

Ask around. Find people you look up to in your industry and find out what they attend.

What vendors do you use at your job? Often they host or sponsor different conferences that would be relevant to you.

What topics interest you and could add value to your organization? Search around for conferences on those topics.

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Some conferences are big productions complete with expos, meals, and huge venues. Others are organized by a single person or smaller organization. You may also have local conferences or user groups that meet in the evenings and hold local events.

Getting There

So how do you get your company to send you to a conference?

Start with the easiest thing – Ask.

Remember that you’re not just asking to attend a conference. Presenting it that way seems like an expense.

Provide some context around how the information, training, and connections at the conference will add value to your organization.

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Maybe there is a new development that could save time or money for your company and this conference will help you get up to speed in that area as well as provide important connections.

Maybe there are training sessions around particular technologies and tools that would otherwise take much longer or be less effective outside of the conference.

Show your employer how they will benefit by sending you to this conference in terms of what value is this going to add to the company? What is their expected return on investment for this?

Keep in mind that they are both investing your time away from work as well as the conference admission and possibly airfare, lodging, and meals. That can all add up to a pretty hefty price tag.

Be Creative

If you don’t get the green light right away that’s ok. Here are a few ideas to make the ask a little smaller and increase your chance of getting a yes. You may need to use a combination of these things.

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  • Offer to do a presentation or provide a written summary of the conference to your organization. This way you are providing the information you received to multiple people.
  • Make it fit in a different budget. Often training budgets are smaller than marketing, sales, and recruiting. Find out how you can do some extra activities on the trip or just present it differently to have the expense come from a larger budget.

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  • Get a discount for the conference. Early registration or multiple registrations are usually discounted.
  • Ask the conference organizer for a discount. Sometimes they will just give you one, other times you can get a discount in exchange for helping with some aspects of the conference while you are there.
  • Ask a sponsor for a pass. Sponsors usually get a number of free or discounted tickets to use, and they aren’t always able to use them. This works particularly well if a sponsor is a vendor you use and already have a contact person.

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  • Speak at the conference. Speakers often get free or discounted registration. Again, contact the organizer well in advance and find out what topics they are looking and where your experience could fit in.
  • Work remotely while at the conference. This can be tricky but maybe you can do some work during travel time and in the evenings/downtime. Plan for half time or less because what is the point of attending a conference if you’re buried in your work the whole time?

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  • Pay for your own meals/lodging/travel. Offer to cover one of these then add more if needed. Even if you end up covering all three it could cost much less than the conference admission.
  • Use vacation time to travel to/from the conference. You may have 2 travel days that can be seen as “unproductive”. Use vacation for those to eliminate that concern.
  • Use vacation time for the entire conference. It shows your willingness to sacrifice to attend although this isn’t always my first choice because I like vacation time to totally unplug from work.

Other Options

Conferences aren’t the only source of information.

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Online training from reliable sources is a great way to stay up to date.

Certifications in your field are another way to demonstrate your competence and stay informed with the latest information.

Industry newsletters and journals can be helpful as well.

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The important thing is to avoid becoming “siloed” in your job and lose touch with what is happening in the world around you.

How are you staying up to date in your industry?

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