It’s fair to say that the team at Logistics Bureau is well-versed in the nuances of the supply chain conference circuit. Apart from having attended many over the years as delegates and speakers, we also organise and host our own events, like the immensely well-received Supply Chain Leaders Insights conference we held recently in Sydney (and which will be hosted next year in Sydney and Melbourne).
So we decided to pool our knowledge and create a comprehensive guide to supply chain conference participation—one that will help you and any employee you may send to an industry event.
The aim of this, our ultimate conference guide, is to help you get the most from supply chain conferences and events, especially if you haven’t paid much attention to them in the past, or if like many professionals, you feel you don’t really get your money’s worth from the (often) high price of attendance.
First: Bookmark this Page
This guide to supply chain conference participation is serialised, and will be published in sections over the next few months, so the first thing to do is bookmark this page. You’ll need to check back here each month for the latest new section.
Once complete, you’ll have the most comprehensive knowledge resource for supply chain conference participation you’re likely to find anywhere—online or in print.
You don’t need to keep it a secret though. Why not share the link with any of your friends and colleagues who have an interest in supply chain and logistics matters?
But first … take a look at Part 1, which you can read right away.
This first part is an essential if you have never attended or sent delegates to a supply chain conference or event. Its objective is to defog the sometimes confusing landscape of industry events. If you don’t know a seminar from a summit or a convention from a conference, don’t worry. You will after reading the rest of this post.
Part 1: Unravelling Conference Confusion
Conferences, conventions, seminars, symposiums, summits, trade shows, and exhibitions: there are so many different types of supply chain events to choose from. Dozens of each type are held every year in major Australian cities like Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Canberra, and of course, in a myriad of locations overseas.
To help you plan future event schedules for yourself or your employees, this section of our supply chain conference participation guide will walk you through some of the event types and explain the key differences between them.
We’ll start with conferences proper, since in terms of pure educational value, supply chain conferences probably have most to offer, if you pick the right ones to attend.
Supply Chain Conference
Conferences are great for learning and developing supply chain skills. The educational value stems from the fact that supply chain conferences often target quite specific problems or ideas, delivering knowledge presented by expert speakers, who offer key insights into the subject matter.
Because of the specific nature of many supply chain conferences, it’s important to carefully select which ones you or your employees should attend. If a conference topic is not directly relevant to issues facing your company, you might not gain too much from attending.
That said, some conferences are different, as recently discovered by supply chain professionals from Melbourne, Sydney, and other Australian cities who attended the inaugural Supply Chain Leaders Insights event.
SCLI was created to fill a gap in supply chain conference coverage. We saw the need for an event where professionals from supply chain and other business disciplines could access experts on a more interactive basis. SCLI delegates were able to meet with industry experts for short, round-table sessions, rather than play a passive part in keynote presentations.
The unique format offered ample opportunity to discuss a range of topics with different industry specialists. Feedback from delegates and experts was so positive that we’ve decided to hold two events in 2017. SCLI will return to Sydney, but will also take place for the first time in Melbourne.
Hopefully this form of supply chain conference will gain ground and become more established as a knowledge sharing event. In the main though, it’s essential to verify exactly what will be covered by a conference before committing, especially as a supply chain conference might last for several days.
Supply Chain Seminar
While conferences often take place over a number of days, seminars tend to be one-day events. A seminar is perhaps more academic in nature than a supply chain conference, and allows for a more interactive dialogue between subject matter experts and delegates.
Seminars are true educational events, where discussions and activities are scheduled to immerse delegates in specific topics and to grow their skills, whereas a conference is more about sharing latest business developments, trends, and opportunities.
In addition to the Supply Chain Leaders Insights conference, Logistics Bureau also specialises in seminars for supply chain professionals.
Our complimentary breakfast seminars for example, are held regularly in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Bangkok Ho Chi Minh City and elsewhere. They are immensely popular with supply chain industry professionals and especially with company executives.
You can also attend supply chain seminars in Australia run by trade organisations such as The Australian Food and Grocery Council. Large corporations too, will host supply chain seminars on occasion. Analytical giant Gartner for instance, held a seminar on the bi-modal supply chain in Sydney last August.
Supply Chain Convention
A convention takes the emphasis on interactivity a step further than either a supply chain conference or seminar. Conventions are about networking, with delegates encouraged to socialise and share ideas and concepts.
A convention is generally less formal than a conference and puts the spotlight on the delegates rather than on the speakers and hosts.
Less formal doesn’t mean less auspicious though. For example, the annual International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) Convention and Expo, while described as an event for North American logistics leaders, attracts supply chain professionals from around the world, such is its reputation as an educational and inspirational event.
Supply Chain Summit
A summit is typically the Granddaddy of all industry gatherings and may incorporate a grandiose line-up of events within its schedule. Summit attendance may see you choosing from an array of sub-events to participate in, perhaps including a supply chain conference, exhibition, or even some master-classes and workshops.
A supply chain summit will most likely target senior company leaders as its target audience. For this reason, summit organisers may restrict attendance through the use of an invitation system, although that’s not always the case.
As an example of unrestricted summits, The Annual Online Retail Supply Chain Summit allows registration by anyone who wishes to attend, as long as they can afford the cost of participation.
The 2016 event was held in Melbourne and the registration price was in the region of $1,500 per delegate. That sounds a lot right? But $1,500 is by no means the most expensive conference registration fee you might come across.
Maximise the Value of a Supply Chain Conference
In fact, attending a supply chain conference or summit can be really pricey. It’s not uncommon to see registration fees of $1,000 per conference day. However, if you go about conference participation wisely, you can ensure your registration fees are well-spent.
If you make smart choices about which events to attend, prepare thoroughly, and have a strategy for participation, you can realise true value from any supply chain conference or similar event.
In Part 2 of our supply chain conference participation guide, we share tips and insights to help you with the first step—selecting the right conferences to attend.
Part 2: Selecting the Right Supply Chain Conference
Whether you will attend a supply chain conference, summit, seminar, or convention; thorough planning and preparation for attendance will make all the difference to the value you get from an event—and value matters … a lot!
If your company is spending, say $1,000 on a conference registration fee, plus the cost of travel and accommodation expenses, your appreciation can best be shown by providing your sponsors with some value from their investment.
Of course you may already be well aware of this, but have perhaps found it hard to gain value from conferences attended in the past.
If so, you might have missed out on effective preparation…
That’s not intended as a criticism, but a statement reflecting the experience of conference delegates we’ve talked to in Sydney, Melbourne and other cities where we operate in a consulting and educational capacity.
So in this (Part 2) and the next part of our ultimate guide to supply chain conference participation, we’re going to share some actionable tips on conference planning and preparation. The first thing to do is make sure you pick the right events to attend, so let’s get right into that…
5 Questions To Ask When Selecting a Supply Chain Conference
Did we say we were going to offer you some tips? Indeed we did.
So why (you may wonder) are we presenting you with questions? Trust me; there is method in this apparent madness.
The best way to decide if a supply chain conference (or similar event) is going to be valuable to you and your employer (if your attendance will be sponsored by your company), is to go through a methodical process of asking (and answering) some specific questions.
Your answers to these questions will clarify what to expect from any conference you will potentially attend, and they’re equally applicable whether you are planning for yourself or sponsoring a delegate:
1) What is my company hoping to gain from conference attendance?
For instance, is the objective to…
- Gain understanding of a new, relevant technology, concept, practice or process?
- Keep up to speed with latest developments in a particular aspect of supply chain management?
- Discuss specific and relevant issues/problems with supply chain peers from other companies?
Once you have nailed down what you and your company want to get from a supply chain conference, you can seek out the events most likely to help you meet your objectives and of course, discount those with little likelihood of being useful.
Of course, with so many supply chain conferences taking place each year, you can potentially still end up with a long list of possibilities. The following questions will help you to narrow that list. Taking each possibility in turn, ask yourself…
2) Can I justify the distance and cost of travel to this conference?
Let’s assume for example, that your company is based in Melbourne, and is working on issues related to corporate social responsibility in its supply chain. You’ve compiled a list of events promising to cover that topic to some degree.
The list includes a couple of general supply chain conferences—one in Europe and one in Sydney—which have CSR on the agenda, along with a three-day event in Canada called “The Socially Responsible Supply Chain.”
If you’re based in Melbourne, it might not be worth travelling to Europe for a general supply chain conference. However, the cost of international travel could be justifiable for the event focused specifically on CSR.
Meanwhile, that local conference, although general in nature, may be worth attending in the hope of picking up some insights into your company’s CSR issues and potential solutions.
3) Will I achieve any concrete outcomes from attendance, and if so, what are those outcomes?
4) Will my attendance make a positive difference to my supply chain role, provide me with new skills or expertise, or enhance my knowledge in a particular subject?
5) After attending the conference, will I be able to perform actions that will benefit my company, and will these be actions that I cannot currently take (due to lack of knowledge or expertise)?
Eliminating supply chain conferences based on questions 1 and 2 shouldn’t be too difficult, but to find the answers to the remaining three questions, you’ll need to get into the details of the events remaining on your list.
Research Your Supply Chain Conference Shortlist
When you’ve winnowed down your shortlist to a handful of events, or are evaluating the potential value of a conference that’s popped up on your radar, a little research can make the difference between wasting money and investing in a highly insightful, valuable supply chain conference.
Evaluate the sessions: First of all, look at the conference schedule in detail. What is the content of each conference session?
As you scan through the schedule, try the “that’s what I need” test. If an event has you exclaiming “that’s what I need” more than once or twice, it’s almost certainly a keeper, and you should secure your reservation.
Check the speaker bios: Who will be speaking at the event you’re considering? What are their credentials?
Be wary of any supply chain conference where most of the speakers are from the same organisation. That’s typically an indication that objectivity will be lacking and that the hosts are pushing a self-serving agenda. Such an event will be of less value than one with speakers from a range of companies, disciplines and backgrounds.
Know who else will be there: This will be the trickiest part of your research, but it’s well worthwhile to scout around on social media and see who is talking about attending the event.
If plenty of your professional peers are planning to attend, especially if they include people you respect and would turn to for advice, you can consider the conference to be worth your participation—provided it satisfies the other selection criteria listed in this post.
On the other hand, if no-one you know is going, you might want to revisit the other selection criteria and make sure the event will really be worth your time.
Prepare Yourself for Participation
If you follow these tips for selecting a supply chain conference, you should be assured that there’s value to be had from participation in your chosen event/s. The next instalment in our guide will help you to you to realise that value.
Selecting the right events; that’s a good start, but preparing yourself specifically for the event you’re attending; that’s the secret sauce of supply chain conference participation.
In Part 3 of our ultimate guide to attending supply chain conferences, we’ll help you identify and mix up the ingredients of that secret sauce—to make sure your registration fees are always well spent.
Part 3: Preparation: The Master Key to Conference Value
Once you’ve chosen the supply chain conference/s to attend yourself, or send employees to as delegates, the next thing to think about is effective preparation. If you want to get value from conferences, it’s well worth taking the time to prepare in advance.
Solid preparation (or the lack of it) is what often differentiates between conference attendance as a worthwhile source of education, and a mere jolly at the time and expense of your employer.
In this section of our ultimate conference participation guide, you’ll learn how to prepare properly before heading off to Sydney, Melbourne, or wherever else your conferencing travels will take you.
Preparing to Learn at a Supply Chain Conference
There can be many reasons to attend a supply chain conference, but the opportunity to learn new things of benefit to your company is perhaps the most valuable, so that’s where you should focus much of your preparation.
Perhaps the most important thing to prepare—beginning well in advance of attendance—is your mindset.
Your psychological approach to conference participation is a key factor in the experience and the amount of value that you’ll get from showing up. You should be determined to remain positive and attentive about session content, and ready to put yourself about a little and mingle with your peers.
Remember, while you can learn a lot from the conference session content, the time you spend socialising and networking with other supply chain practitioners can also be very educational.
Network for Knowledge
If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of networking at a conference, you’re not alone. Many people find the whole idea kind of unwholesome and inauthentic. To change this particular paradigm, you need to think about the goals of conference networking, and let those objectives drive your focus.
First of all, you won’t be networking for social status, but as part of a mission to share ideas and knowledge—in other words, to further the progress of your industry and your company.
Your own knowledge and expertise can be of great use to those with whom you interact, so you won’t just be connecting with people for your own ends. You’ll be contributing as well as gaining from your contact with other professionals.
Prepare Your Introductions
To help you with introductions, prepare a very brief elevator pitch for yourself; a script for introducing yourself to other delegates and letting them know what you do.
Make the pitch short, to the point, and relevant to the context of the event. Time is precious at a supply chain conference, so make sure your pitch can be delivered in less than 30 seconds.
Here are a few quick pointers for what to include in your conference elevator pitch:
- Your name
- A brief explanation of your supply chain role
- Your primary reason for being at the conference
Try to compile your pitch in such a way that it can be naturally worked into a conversation. Launching into an elevator pitch before exchanging a few pleasantries is not a good idea, especially if you’re concerned about authenticity as mentioned earlier in this guide.
As the time to attend a conference draws close, try to complete any scheduled work activities that might otherwise occupy your thoughts while you are away.
It’s important to remove distractions if you want to absorb as much knowledge as possible while at the conference.
If you’re able to delegate any activities which won’t be completed, try to hand them over some time in advance of your departure, so you can support the new owner and get her up to speed before taking your hands off the wheel.
Prepare Your Session Plan
If you followed our in Part 2 of this guide (selecting supply chain conferences), you should already have a good idea of what’s on the agenda, but now it’s time to plan and prioritise the sessions you’ll attend.
When making your list of “must attend” sessions, consider the following factors:
- How much do you already know about the topic?
- How relevant is the session to supply chain problems your company needs to solve?
- Is the session to be presented by a practicing expert in the field, as opposed to a theorist?
For example, if you’re going to be travelling from West Australia to a supply chain conference in Sydney, it will probably be wasteful to attend sessions on topics with which you are familiar.
Similarly, there’s little to be gained from returning to your workplace with a head full of new theory about “bimodal strategy in global supply chains” if your company sources and supplies only within Australia.
Extra-useful Tip: If you’ll be attending the conference with colleagues from your company, you have a golden opportunity to maximise value by working together. Dividing sessions up among your group members will be much more beneficial than having two or more people sitting in the same presentations.
Prepare Your Burning Questions
In addition to knowing which sessions you’ll attend, it’s a great idea to list the burning questions you have about each of the session topics.
Write your questions for each session on a cue card that you can keep in your pocket.
You’ll be able to use these cards to strike off the answers if they’re revealed during the presentation, and if they’re not, to quickly prompt yourself during end-of-session Q&As or if you get to speak with a presenter in the lobby after a session.
Prepare Your Supply Chain Conference Toolkit
It goes without saying that you should pack some pens and a notebook, but there are a few other essential items that you should pull together the day before you set off for your chosen supply chain conference.
Here’s a short checklist of the most important items, excluding the obvious things like clothing, toiletries and travel documents:
- A wristwatch (so you don’t have to keep pulling your phone out to check the time)
- A mobile device with Internet connection (phone or tablet)
- Portable chargers for your device/s
- Your planned schedule of sessions to attend
- Business cards (they are still the best way to quickly provide your contact details to others)
- Your Cue cards with questions to ask at conference sessions
- Laptop (but only if you can’t do without it – see below)
It’s debatable as to whether it’s a good idea to take your laptop to a supply chain conference. Remember, you’re trying to avoid distractions because you want to get the most from your participation.
Laptops at Conferences: Good or Bad?
Compared with a smartphone or tablet, there are so many more possibilities for working with a laptop—and that’s the problem.
A laptop can provide too much temptation to try and keep up with what’s going on back in the workplace—and even to put in some remote working hours. As conscientious as this may be, it really won’t help you to immerse yourself fully in the event experience.
There is one good excuse to take your laptop with you though, that will help you absorb plenty of knowledge from a supply chain conference—use it to create PowerPoint presentations from each session you attend.
This is a really effective method to ensure you take knowledge away that you can share with your managers and colleagues when you get back to work.
In Part 4 of our ultimate guide to conference participation, you can read more about this educational conferencing technique in detail, as well as some other smart tips for learning from supply chain conference speaker sessions.
Part 4: Getting Educated at Conferences
One reason is education and knowledge, and the second is to network with supply chain experts and peers who might be based in your locality, region, country or indeed, anywhere in the world. We’ll cover conference networking in Part 5 of our ultimate guide to supply chain conference participation.
Here in Part 4 though, we’re sharing ideas that you can use to get real educational value from the conference sessions you attend.
We’ll start with a method touched on in Part 3, which can not only help you absorb the knowledge and information presented by conference speakers, but also makes that information easy to utilise and share when you get back into your workplace.
From Session Notes to Workplace Presentation
It should go without saying that note-taking is vital if you are to retain the important learning points from any conference session. You don’t need to take copious notes as long as you capture the key takeaways, but whatever notes you do take, make sure you write them by hand, onto paper.
Research has proven that hand-writing your conference notes will help you synthesise information more effectively than if you use a laptop or other digital device.
Don’t worry if you are someone who just loves to use digital technology at conferences though. The next step will satisfy your craving to open that laptop. As soon as you have some downtime at your supply chain conference, use it to create a PowerPoint presentation from your session notes.
This will serve as a second step in your education, since creating the presentation will help you reflect on what you learned at the session. Moreover, the finished slide deck is something you can refer to and present to your colleagues when you are back in the workplace.
Of course you may be able to get copies of slide decks used by the session-speaker, but that shortcut will defeat the object of this learning activity, which is to cement the knowledge you gain by processing it in a number of different ways.
More Tips for Learning at a Supply Chain Conference
If you’re going to make PowerPoint presentations from your conference session-notes, you’ll need to give yourself the time to put your presentations together while the session-content is still fresh in your mind. This is one reason why you shouldn’t try to attend every session on the conference schedule.
It’s better to focus your attention and energy on a handful of topics that will be most useful for yourself or your company. Your focus will be stronger if you skip some less-relevant sessions and use the time to work on your slide decks.
By alternating your activity in this way, you’ll improve your understanding of the high-priority topics and feel fresher and more attentive in the sessions you do attend.
Of course, you may be content just to take away your session notes and choose not to create PowerPoint presentations. A lot will depend upon your own learning style and preferences. Whether you try the PowerPoint technique or not though, the following tips are also worth knowing, and will help you get as much educational benefit as possible from supply chain conference participation:
- Attend the Orientation Session: Larger supply chain conferences and events often start with an orientation session. It can be useful to attend this session, as it will help you understand the event structure, making it easier to find your way around and make productive use of your conference time.
- Take Front-row Seats at Speaker Sessions: For some strange reason, people often avoid sitting in the front rows of seats during speaker sessions. Use the empty seats to your advantage and sit up front. Not only will you see and hear everything in crystal-clarity, you’ll also be able to engage more with the speaker and if you have questions, will be more likely to attract the speaker’s attention and get them answered.
- But Know When to Take a Back Seat: On the other hand, if you are attending a session and are not sure about its value or relevance to your objectives, slip into a seat at the back. That will make it easier to step out early and save valuable time if the session turns out not to be for you. Similarly, if it’s proving worthwhile to stay, you can always up and move towards the front of the auditorium.
- Spend time in the Vendor/Exhibit Hall: If you are attending a conference primarily to learn or gather information, it can seem sensible to avoid the hall where vendors have their booths. Actually though, you can gain a lot of valuable information by engaging with vendors. Visit those who deal with products or services relevant to your educational goals, and pick their brains for insights.
- Record Session Audio: As an adjunct to your notes, audio recordings of speaker-sessions are ideal, since you can switch on your smartphone audio-recording app and then just forget about it while you pay attention to the speaker and take your notes. You can also use the recording to substitute your notes when building your after-session PowerPoint presentation.
- Make Use of Your Cue Cards: Another great reason to record audio during sessions is to complement your cue cards. When you’re asking the questions you prepared, you might be feeling self-conscious, which can hinder your ability to take in the speaker’s answers. If you’re recording the session though, you’ll be able to play the audio back later, when you’re relaxed and able to really listen and absorb the information.
Remember: Networking Can Be Educational Too
Aside from the information gained from workshops and presentations, you can also learn a lot through networking with the other conference attendees. There is after all, knowledge and wisdom aplenty among your fellow supply chain practitioners.
Networking is both a way to tap into that professional wisdom and to help your peers benefit from your own experience and insights.
In Part 5 of our ultimate supply chain conference guide, you can tap into our knowledge and pick up some very useful conference-networking tips. We’ll tell you how to network for professional insight, make contacts for future collaboration, and generally get more benefit from the social side of conference participation.
Part 5: How to Network at a Supply Chain Conference
A supply chain conference is a social event, with a capital SOCIAL. Alright, so it’s also a professional event; an opportunity to learn and gather knowledge to benefit your company and its business. But by its very name and nature, a conference is an event designed to encourage social engagement and communication.
Keynote speeches, presentations, and workshops offer a lot of value, especially if you follow the guidance offered so far in this serial post. However, to really get the most from conference attendance, you need to capitalise on all the opportunities present in a gathering of folk with shared professional interests and concerns.
It’s Natural to Have Networking Nerves
If you don’t engage in conference networking, some portion of your admission and travel cost is being allowed to go to waste. For many people though, the very idea of seeking conversation with “strangers” outside of scheduled sessions is unnatural and a source of anxiety.
The fact remains though, that these conversations are important in the way that they propagate supply chain insight and knowledge. They can also serve as a basis for rewarding and long lasting collaborative business relationships.
Even if you are the outgoing type, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you are a networking natural, so here in Part 5 of our ultimate guide to supply chain conference participation, we share some tips to help you take the first steps in networking at professional events, or even to improve your networking skills if you’re already something of an adept.
First of all though, a quick reminder is due: Part 3 of this guide discussed, among other things, the importance of preparing an elevator pitch. Nowhere is this quick personal introduction more important than when you are initiating conversations, or responding to somebody else’s interest when networking at a conference.
And a word of warning: Your elevator pitch is vital, but DON”T use it as conversation starter. Wait until the person you are talking with asks you about you. That is the opening you need and will ensure your pitch comes across as natural and unpretentious. If the person you are talking to doesn’t ask about you (within a reasonable amount of time), trust me, it’s time to excuse yourself and move on.
Aside from a concise and timely introduction though, how else can you network like a natural and hence get more from a supply chain conference? Here are a few ideas to try…
1: Set Networking Goals
Like most other activities, networking becomes easier when you know exactly why you are doing it. Ask yourself what you want to achieve for your employer or yourself from the time you spend networking. For example, you may wish to…
- Find peers who are working on similar business problems or projects to yours, in order to start a long-term dialogue and collaborative relationship
- Connect with people you know to be experts in a particular supply chain discipline, and get some burning questions answered
- Seek representatives from service providers or other companies that may be ready to discuss working in partnership with your company
- Spread awareness of your own company and any supply chain services it provides
Of course these are just a few possible networking goals. Yours will be of your own devising. The important thing is to set a personal networking objective or two. Not only will this help to shape your approach to networking, it will also provide you with the motivation to network in an active, rather than passive manner.
2: Create Networking Opportunities
As previously mentioned, it can seem unnatural (and probably is) to just walk up to somebody at a supply chain conference and begin a conversation—even more so if that somebody is already part of a group. So rather than agonising over approaching someone during a conference break, create opportunities to interact in a more comfortable way.
For instance, you’re more likely to meet other professionals spontaneously if you stay at the hotel where the conference is held, or at the hotels you know the majority of delegates will check into. This of course, requires a little research before the conference, which in any case (as covered in Parts 2 and 3 of our guide) is an important aspect of preparation.
Similarly, you will find it easier to strike up conversations if you sit next to people at every opportunity. When you walk into a conference presentation or other session, don’t head straight for a row of empty seats in the hope that they won’t all become occupied.
Instead, look around. Is there anyone you know you’d like to speak with and if so, do they have an empty seat next to them? If so, go ahead and ask if you can take it. Failing that, sit down next to somebody. You never know, a conversation with that somebody might lead to a whole new network of business acquaintances.
3: Don’t Let Tech Take Over
If you spend all your time between sessions eyes-down with your phone or tablet in hand, you’ll miss countless opportunities to meet and speak with people.
The beauty of mobile technology is that you can use it to connect with new contacts online and keep the connection going when you return home from Melbourne, Sydney, or wherever else your supply chain conference travels take you.
But remember… you’re already at a social event, and ideally, you should have your work covered while you’re away, so there’s little reason to be more interested in your phone than the many fascinating folk around you.
4: Memorise and Use Conversation-starters
At risk of being repetitive, one of the hardest things about conference networking is striking up a conversation with someone you’ve never met. Yet it really doesn’t have to be that difficult. Just about everyone will be responsive to a conversation-starter, such as:
- How long have you been with (company name)?
- Are you based here in the Sydney area (or wherever the conference is located)?
- Where were you before joining (company name)?
- I came to this conference because (insert your conference objectives). How about you?
- What sessions are you looking forward to?
- Which sessions have you found most interesting so far?
- I/we/my company am/are/is trying to make improvements in (supply chain topic). Do you have any experiences in this area that you can share?
If you open a conversation with any of the statements and questions above, you’ll overcome your biggest networking hurdle.
Not only that, you’ll almost certainly gain valuable information about the person you’re talking to. Keep in mind too, that these are not just useful as conversation-openers, but also to fill in any awkward conversational gaps.
Your Employees’ Network is Your Network
The information offered here in Part 5 (and elsewhere in this guide) is directed at anyone with an interest in maximising the value of supply chain conference participation.
It may be that you are reading this as someone who will send others to conferences, rather than participating yourself. If so, the abilities of your delegates to network and learn at a supply chain event will determine how well your conference budget is spent.
In the sixth and final part of this guide, you can find out how to ensure your delegates bring a wealth of knowledge, insight, and potential business connections with them on returning to the workplace.
For now though, if you are (or will be) a delegate yourself, we hope you find the information is this guide helpful. If you’re a business leader, then please remember that what your delegates learn at a supply chain conference will enrich your firm’s “tribal knowledge” and that the connections they make should also extend the network of wisdom available to your company.
Part 6: Some Tips If You’re Delegating Conference Attendees
Now we’re approaching the end of our ultimate guide to supply chain conference participation and as promised, this final part is for you if you’re responsible for sending delegates to conferences in Sydney, Melbourne, or anywhere else on the planet.
The following tips will help you ensure your conference attendance budget is well-spent and that your delegates generate value from participation in industry events.
Invite Proposals for Conference Participation
The first step in maximising the benefits of supply chain conference attendance is to select the right delegates to represent your business. In many companies, leaders select delegates based on their own beliefs as to who should attend a given event.
However, this is not a very objective approach and won’t necessarily ensure that the right delegates are selected. An alternative approach then, is to put word out that a supply chain conference is happening and invite proposals from employees who wish to attend.
Ask interested parties to complete a proposal explaining what makes them the best potential delegate, and describing their objectives and approach for getting value from the conference. You can take a similar tack if one of your team approaches you and asks you to sponsor her participation in a conference.
By asking potential delegates to deliver a proposal, you not only get a chance to objectively select conference participants, but also to pick up on their ideas and either encourage them or suggest alternative steps they can take to get value from their attendance.
Help Your Delegates Plan for Participation
Once you have identified delegates to send to a supply chain conference, you can take steps to ensure their attendance provides your company with a return on investment. The first of these steps is to help your delegates plan and prepare to attend the event.
In fact, your first action might be to refer your delegates to this guide, from which they can learn plenty about planning and preparation for a supply chain conference. Ask them to read it through as part of their planning activity.
If you are the delegate’s manager, you should also support him/her by freeing up some time for conference preparation. Allow your delegate to schedule some time-slots in which she can forego normal duties to work on her conference plan.
Remember too, to schedule time after the conference for follow-up activities and knowledge transfer from the delegate to you, your team, and others in your business who would benefit.
Back in Part 3 of this guide, we discussed how delegates should to be free (if possible) from distractions just before and during their time at a supply chain conference.
Try to support your delegates in this, by not assigning them any major new tasks in the last day or two before they go to the event. Let them finish up outstanding tasks and if it makes sense, allocate some extra resources to assist them.
Help Delegates to Participate and Network
If your chosen delegates are not well-practiced in conference networking, consider offering them some coaching to help them overcome any anxiety and plan their networking activities during the conference. You could either provide the coaching yourself if you are a networking pro, or otherwise try to find a coach/mentor from within your team, department, or the wider organisation.
If you can’t easily find a networking coach, refer your delegates to the networking tips offered in earlier parts of this guide. You can also pass on the following tips for your delegates to consider, both to help them network and to generally get more from their supply chain conference participation:
- Don’t stick with your colleagues all the time (if you are sending a group of delegates)
- Compare and discuss session notes with other conference delegates
- Take advantage of mealtimes to sit and make conversation with people you don’t know
- Collect copies of speakers’ presentations and other useful literature to share back at the workplace
- Ask lots of questions and where possible, prioritise interactive sessions over straightforward speaker presentations
- Try to find a “conference buddy” from another organisation to spend time with (this helps delegates to get introduced to new people at the conference)
Provide Post-conference Support
Once your delegates set off on their conference trip they are pretty much on their own, so the time you spend supporting and helping them before they go is worth its weight in gold. Your part in the process will recommence upon their return.
Your delegates will need your help to transfer what they’ve learned into the workplace and hence deliver value for the money spent on conference attendance.
If you don’t charge your conference delegates with the task of gathering and disseminating knowledge or information, there will really be little benefit from sending them to conferences in the first place. The same is true if you don’t remove obstacles after the conference, to make sure learning is actually transferred to the business and translated into action.
Post-conference knowledge transfer can take a number of forms. In Part 4, we looked at how delegates can prepare PowerPoint slide decks to present to colleagues back in the workplace, but there are other ways to share new knowledge and information, which include:
- Written reports
- Webinars or teleconferences
- Video compilations (if your delegates recorded video at the conference)
- Digital knowledge-bases, Intranet or Internet blogs
- Formal or informal briefings, discussions, brown-bag lunch meetings or similar
Whichever vehicle is used to disseminate knowledge and information acquired by conference delegates, be sure to support and sponsor this post-conference activity. Make time available for knowledge transfer, and encourage supply chain staff to take part in the briefings, presentations, or meetings.
How to Assess the Value of Supply Chain Conference Attendance
You and your conference delegates will have one final task to complete before putting a supply chain conference behind you. That task is to assess what value was attained from conference participation.
An informal but thorough conference post-mortem will help you identify what was gained from attending the event, and lessons learned will be useful when selecting future conferences. Use post-mortem findings to steer changes/improvements in conference preparation, participation, and knowledge transfer.
In reflecting on a conference with delegates, try to answer the following questions:
- What was the most valuable piece of information or knowledge learned from the event?
- What questions were unanswered and require some follow up investigation/research?
- What new insights were acquired for your business?
- What are the top five most important things learned?
- Who in your company would benefit from those five most important things?
- How can your company benefit from those things?
To complete your value-assessment, you will need to give it two or three months and then revisit the “objectives for learning” from the conference. Using the objectives for context, take a look inside your business and answer these questions:
1) Have there been any discernible changes in behaviour or practice?
2) Have any new tools, techniques or methodologies been successfully introduced and adopted?
3) Has your company benefited from any new connections made by conference delegates?
4) Has information gathered at the conference been utilised in a tangible and quantifiable way?
If you can answer “yes” to any of the four questions above, then at least you know that your company has gained from the time your delegates were away, and that their conference participation meant more than a “jolly” at the firm’s expense.
The context of the learning-objectives is important here, because depending on those objectives, you may expect the outcomes to benefit the delegates alone (and their workplace roles); a team, department, or function, a process or set of processes, or perhaps even overall supply chain and business performance.
Conferences Work, If You Work at Conferences
Well, that’s it! We’ve come to the end (for now) of our ultimate guide to supply chain conference participation. If you’ve stayed with us throughout, you should now have a good understanding of:
- The different types of supply chain conference and event
- How to select the right conferences to attend
- Effective preparation for conference attendance
- Techniques and tricks for getting educated at a supply chain conference
- Successful conference networking
- How to derive value from sending delegates to conferences
Perhaps the most important takeaway of all though, is that if you want a supply chain conference to be really worth your while, or that of your delegates, there is work that needs to be put in before, during, and after the event.
It shouldn’t be an onerous workload, but there are certain responsibilities that need to be upheld in return for the chance to learn, have fun, and network with a big family of like-minded professionals in a stimulating and socially oriented environment for a few days.
And Finally… A Date or Two for Your Conference Calendar
Right now we’re about a quarter of the way into 2017, so there are plenty more potential dates to put in your conference calendar for the year.
If you or your colleagues are in striking distance of Sydney or Melbourne, Australia, we hope you’ll add one of our Supply Chain Leaders Insights events to your schedule. You’ll find SCLI to be a very different type of conference, using a format designed to bring real value to your business, at a ridiculously low cost of attendance.
Visit our SCLI web pages to find out more and to reserve your place. We’ll hope to welcome you along on October 17th or 19th.