Ringmaster-Do Your Job!

While on a flight yesterday I overheard the conversation behind me. A group of people were on their way to some type of conference. I'm not sure of the purpose of the conference, but it was part of their work responsibility. Here's the gist of the conversation. We'll call them Attendee 1 and Attendee 2:

Attendee 1: Do you know what we're supposed to do at this conference? What sessions do I have to go to?
Attendee 2: Well, you are required to go to the opening reception tonight, and tomorrow night they have a real neat off site dinner planned. I try to go to several of the sessions. Sometimes they are interesting. I normally sit in the back, and if they don't keep my interest I just leave.

I shuddered. Two people attending a conference, probably at the expense of the company, and one is clueless while the other's priority is a good meal. What a tremendous return on investment the company will get for sending these two people.

My question is, "Where is their manager, supervisor or boss in the equation?" If I were sending (or allowing) two people to go to a conference on company time, there are a few things I would do as their ringmaster to insure that the experience was of benefit to them and the company. They would include:

  • Reviewing the agenda with the attendee. Most all conferences post their agenda, including breakout sessions, on their website. At least request it from the attendee even if you don't review it with them in person.
  • Reflect on the best "acts" for the attendee. Review sessions that have will have content specific to the attendee's job responsibilities and/or company strategic interests. You don't have to choose all of them, but at least give them some guidance-especially if they have not attended a conference like this in the past.
  • Remind them to take advantage of networking. So many good ideas at a conference come from table discussions at meals, breaks and at informal moments.
  • Encourage them to enjoy some "self ring" time. If you are familiar with the area suggest an activity they could do during some of their free time-or direct them to someone who could be of help in knowing the local area. Web information is plentiful, but an individual's first hand experience is sometimes the most efficient way to garner insights.
  • Follow up when they return. Talk with them about the experience. Let them share information from the conference that is of benefit to the company and their coworkers. Ask how, as their "ringmaster," you can help with any new directions or initiatives that grew out of the conference. Perhaps even set the follow up time with them PRIOR to their attendance at the conference. Accountablility in today's business climate is a necessity, not a luxury.

Conferences just offer too much benefit to an organization to be missed because a ringmaster didn't take the time to effectively prepare a performer for this act in their work ring.