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Investing in Our Careers: Conferences are Not a Luxury

May 18, 2010

by Ulla de Stricker

Receiving rave reviews from attendees, the recent annual conference of the Association of Independent Professionals (aiip.org) was a perfect case study illustrating the value of direct interaction between peers with similar interests and concerns.  The enthusiastic feedback to the organizing team focused on the long range benefits and takeaways of discovering the latest thinking in relevant topical areas, having confidence-building ‘aha’ moments, and establishing personal contacts.

The conversation among attendees about the value of the conference reflected similar comments I have heard throughout my working life.  Given the understandable personal budgetary concerns prevalent currently, I want to reiterate here – I have touched on the topic in the blog previously – the salient and universally applicable points regarding personal investment of time and money in professional conferences. Unless it just so happens a conference is held in our back yard, the out of pocket costs – shared car rides and hotel rooms notwithstanding – are significant.  But I believe they are necessary and justifiable investments:

  • The personal connections we make at a conference may last – and yield yet more connections – for our entire careers.
  • The value of the trust arising from having interacted personally cannot be overstated.
  • The concentrated dose of information about experience gained by colleagues would likely be much more time consuming to obtain via websites, social media, podcasts, etc.
  • Hearing what speakers have to say and what fellow attendees think about it right then and there is a nuanced experience offering the opportunity to ask face to face “could you give an example?”, “how did you specifically implement?”, “what should I be concerned about given my situation?”,  and so on.
  • Where there are exhibits, the conference is a unique opportunity for everyone to learn about information industry trends and for buyers to engage with vendors in detailed discussions about their products and services.  Demonstrations and brief tutorials are typically offered on the spot.

Viewed over the long career term, what we pay to be with our peers at a professional conference is worth every penny.  Of course, we arrive with detailed agendas outlining how to spend every precious hour to soak up the program offerings.  Then, using the social events to catch up with colleagues and meet new ones is a valuable bonus – requiring, of course, some stamina on top of a 10-hour day packed with activities.

Having benefited from and enjoyed (and yes, returned exhausted from) professional conferences for decades, it is second nature for me to prioritize them in my budgeting.  I encourage everyone to develop and maintain the habit:  Invest in your career – go join your peers!

Ulla de Stricker is a well-known figure in the Canadian information and library community, having been active in it for over 30 years. Through a successful career holding senior positions in the information industry, Ulla has developed extensive expertise in knowledge and information management. An accomplished and very popular public speaker, Ulla is a frequent contributor to the professional literature and to conferences.

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