Selecting the right employee for conference attendance

By CEO Jim Annis

Conference attendee selection might be agonizing at your organization because 1) everyone wants to go, or; 2) it’s just the opposite and you resort to drawing straws and the short one is sent off. Budgets are tight, you’ve set goals as to what you want to accomplish and you want the most out of your resources — financial and human. What do you do? Work backwards. The secret is to have enough managerial insight to envision that ideal attendee’s behavior pre-, during and post-conference. Select someone who just gets giddy over the end result that you want and the expectations set forth. Here’s how to picture them:

Pre-conference

Think of the person who has self-selected their career path (with or without your input) that includes professional development. Lifelong learners are great choices as they are typically eager to “sharpen the saw.” Someone who might have a current role in your succession plan, or perhaps shows the chutzpah it takes to offer them as a potential future leader. Your ideal attendee will feel proud to represent your company, understand and respect that it is a great expense and pay attention and follow the conference attendance FAQ (what are the meal dollar limits, how to process travel expenses, pre-arranging for a company credit or debit card or pre-paid expenses to ease employee financial burden, etc.) that you provide. You should have no hesitation that the employee will respect your wishes and the employee handbook.

Pick the one who will best represent your company on a professional level — a true brand ambassador whose positive energy and willingness to step up to the plate and manage the role responsibly is evident. Networking either comes as second nature to them; or they are a diamond in the rough but is coachable, enough so that they will commit to it even if they are uncomfortable because they know it is part of furthering the company’s goals.

The minute they get back to the office

They will give their boss a formal, hand-written thank you. A bit much, you say? Not at all. If you paid for them to go, it is an expectation that they should offer appreciation for the opportunity and reiterate the benefits of the experience. A sincere “thank you” can go a long way, particularly if they would like to attend future conferences.

Immediate follow-up with other attendees and vendors is crucial. Your candidate should connect via social media (starting with LinkedIn as a priority). Adding contacts to the company CRM database creates win-win. Coach them to understand the value of developing relationships and how it benefits your company — and them personally — along the way.

One week post-conference

The employee must have the ability to communicate effectively, verbally and in writing and they should summarize and prioritize the takeaway/what they learned, match it to your company’s strategic plan, identify skills gaps, and then package information in a “handoff” type format.

Invite them to please share! The attendee should be self-directed enough to create opportunities for those who did not attend, including distribution of links to virtual conference websites, videos, handouts, and summaries of takeaways in report or PowerPoints, as well as setting up a brown bag lunch session or present a high-level summary at the next all-staff meeting.

Once you’ve done this, take it a step further. Put yourself in the scenarios above and rate yourself. Would you be that ideal attendee? Take the challenges and expectations above, apply them the next time you go to conference and then let me know how it goes!

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Applied’s COO, contributed to this article.