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I have noticed something in my travels over the years. Advisers who regularly attend conferences both within and outside of their own licensees tend to have a more positive business outlook, are open to new ideas and are often better equipped to cope with changes that affect their business and the advice they provide to clients.

In my experience, joining with peers and business partners within your network should be a compulsory addition to your business calendar, and so too, attending conferences that are conducted by third parties. ‘Independent’ conferences outside the licensee can provide an expanded level of knowledge and opportunities to share ideas with a broader network of advisers. There are many great conferences conducted by the FPA, the AFA, SPAA, and the list goes on.

There is always a cost to attend a conference, between registration, travel, accommodation and time out of the business, so it is important to select the conference wisely and make sure that you get maximum return on your investment. Ironically, it is in times of market and business stress, that advisers can gain the most from a conference, at a time they perceive they can least afford to attend.

As a business owner, also consider sending staff to conferences. Many quality businesses include the cost of conference attendance in their employee’s salary packages or budget for training and development. This is a great way of investing in staff – not only will they feel special and valued in the business, they will also pick up a wealth of knowledge that can’t necessarily be gained from reading a text book or articles.

One of my favourite quotes is along the lines of ‘Don’t ask, “What if I train my staff and they leave?”, ask yourself “What if I don’t train my staff and they stay?”’

7 ways to ensure you get the most out of attending conferences.

1. Be clear on your reasons for attending. Before you go, first identify the outcomes you’re looking to achieve from attending the event. These lists will vary greatly between delegates, but could include:

  • Update technical knowledge on latest advice opportunities for clients,
  • Update practice management knowledge and skills to enable the delivery of better advice to clients, and better returns and enjoyment form the business,
  • Visit the trade stands to see what innovations you (and your clients) may be able to profit from,
  • Meet other advisers and get a feel for what is working and how they are handling the current market,
  • Hear from industry experts about new ideas and innovations,
  • Obtain x number of CPD points,
  • Meet service providers who can help run your business better,
  • Network with advisers and key industry people to create and deepen relationships.

2. Plan your attack. Take a good look at the conference program prior to attending and identify the speakers and sessions you really want to attend. There are often concurrent sessions to suit a wide audience and it’s important to put some fore-thought into which sessions will provide the most value and benefit.

3. What if you need to retreat? If you find yourself in a session that turns out to be a disappointment, don’t waste the opportunity. If you figure it out early in the session and you’re seated somewhere inconspicuous, make a hasty exit and go find an alternative session that’s more up your alley. As a well-seasoned conference speaker, I am well aware that people can find themselves in the wrong room, and I’d much rather my whole audience is there for the right reasons, rather than for a snooze! On the flip side, it may provide a great opportunity to reflect on your business and process some of the ideas and thoughts gathered over time so far, and write down notes of things that need to done on return to work.

It’s not often that we get time away from client phonecalls, appointments, staff issues etc and allow ourselves time to think and work on the business. Have a notebook or a Livescribe pen (if allowed) with you at all times – you will be surprised at just how many ideas and solutions can be created when you free your mind from activities and simply take time for reflection and big-picture thinking.

4. Divide and conquer – or unite and magnify. If you send members of your staff to conferences, there are ways that you can ensure that you maximise the return on your investment here too. Rather than all attending the same conference, send each staff member to a different event and get them to present a synopsis of their key learnings to the team when they return, so that the entire staff can benefit from a range of events. Alternatively, taking a group of staff to the same conference can make a good team bonding exercise from the event, and you can split the sessions between you, and obtain insights from concurrent sessions.

5. Explore the Expo Hall. The trade stands/exhibition areas are not only a good source of giveaways and competition entries (or lunch!). Product and service providers contribute significantly to these events in order to reach a broad network of advisers and introduce them to their latest products and services, and these contributions help to keep your registration fees down.

I have seen many advisers knock back the opportunity to explore the stands and miss out on fantastic support and products that would help them improve the quality of advice and service their clients receive. It is easier to spend five or ten minutes at a stand to identify or dismiss a potential opportunity than to possibly waste an appointment with a BDM in your office – or worse, miss out altogether.

6. Don’t play up if you can’t back it up! Let’s face it, there’s never any shortage of colleagues who are ready to lead you astray of an evening, and most conferences have great social events that can really get you in the party mood. I’ve known many an adviser who has slept through some of the best content because they partied too hard the night before and couldn’t face the daylight, because they forgot that their new BFF, the BDM with a corporate card who’s not afraid to use it, isn’t necessarily at the conference for the same reasons they are. Keep in mind that most BDM’s don’t attend conferences to attend the sessions and obtain technical content – I know, I’ve been one!

I’m certainly not suggesting that you don’t partake, there’s a reason why most conferences will have baristas and at least one fund manager will have Beroccas as giveaways. Just know your limits – the fact that you don’t get out much anymore is a fact you don’t want to become blatantly obvious to your fellow delegates. There is one instance when the ‘play up, show up’ rule should be broken – if you really went too hard, don’t show up if you’re going to intoxicate the other delegates sitting in your row the next morning…sometimes it just doesn’t matter how many showers you have, the alcohol from the night before continues to seep from your pores until well after morning tea!

7. Cash in on your investment! Too many advisers get back to their offices after a conference, are gung-ho for three days and then quickly get swallowed up in the day-to-day running of their business again, so that their flashes of genius and new ideas get buried under their client work. Don’t let your investment go to waste…when you get back to the office, make sure you put in place detailed, documented action plans to ensure that you can follow through and complete the new ideas that have been created.

So the next time you tell yourself that you can’t afford the time or money to attend a conference, think again…can you afford not to?