How to get the most out of every conference you attend
I can remember attending my first Maintenance and Reliability Conference, while it was over twenty years ago I was excited to go and find out what other companies were doing to improve. I can remember looking at the agenda and feeling a bit overwhelmed, there were so many different presentations to choose from sometimes I had a difficult time selecting which one to attend at a given time slot.
At that time I was interested in Root Cause Analysis, I had been appointed to a team that would select a RCA supplier for Eastman Kodak and nearly all the big names RCA Training were in attendance. Most would be presenting a paper on Root Cause and four of the five providers I wanted to see had a booth set up at the conference.
At this same time I was also on a team charged with selecting a new CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) for Kodak, I was hoping to find a presentation or two from companies who were actual users of one of the two systems we had narrowed our search to. I was disappointed to find out it was extremely rare to find a company who will step up and give a presentation regarding how happy they are with their new CMMS.
Lastly I was interested in finding out how other companies were assessing or making decisions on their spare parts. Surely there would be a presentation or two on that subject.
In the end, I attended three presentations from companies who were using one of the RCA providers I was interested in. Following the presentation I was able to talk to some of the people who worked for each company and get some solid opinions on how each effort was going. I found I got better answers from the actual users as opposed to the providers. I walked away with contact e-mails and phone numbers for each good reference.
The providers in the booths were always swamped, some fronted sales people instead of their actual instructors and I found it difficult to get twenty quality minutes alone with someone to discuss their training offerings.
The spare parts search was a disaster, no actual user presentations and the providers all used calculators based on inventory turns. Not what I was looking for.
So, how do you get the most from a conference?
I have a list of what I call conference best practices, follow this and you should get the answers your looking for!
Conference Best Practices
- Make a list of the topics you are interested in prior to going.
- Get a list of the conference presentations and workshops up front.
- Select the presentations you are interested in seeing, I always tell people look for presentations given by users and favor those over presentations given by providers. You will find that the user presentations might be more boring, but the information will be real, they will also likely cover some of the roadblocks or struggles they had to over-come.
- When it comes to talking with providers in the exhibit hall when you approach a booth ask for their expert on a given subject, if he/she is not at the booth ask for their contact info and set up a time and place to meet in private at the conference. Having been a provider now for 15 years, I can tell you booth time is hectic; I will see hundreds of people in a day and have a good quality discussion with maybe two in that time. But if we can meet in the hotel lobby for thirty minutes we can have a solid business discussion without interruption.
- Join in on the conference events, this is your chance to meet other Maintenance and Reliability Professionals, people representing companies from all over the world and you will be surprised what you can learn from each other. I still talk with three of the people I met at my first conference and have provided RCM Training or Facilitation for two of the three.
- Don’t miss the key note speakers no matter how lame the conference brochure might make them sound. Chances are if they are speaking at a conference that draws more than five hundred people they know what they are doing.
- Take off the rose colored glasses they hand out at the door of the service or training provider presentations. Let’s be honest if a provider is presenting without a customer it will likely be a fantastic presentation, it’s what we get paid to do, but don’t expect the presenter to tell you about any of the issues companies might experience with their training or service.
- Don’t sit with your friends at lunch; it’s another chance to meet people like yourself who are looking for answers.
- Be that person who asks questions at the end of a presentation. We all know people have questions and don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions.
- If you see something you don’t agree with in a presentation, address it outside of the presentation. At the end of the presentation tell the presenter you would like to discuss something with them later. Especially if it’s a user presentation, nearly all presenters get nervous and sometimes the words just don’t come out right.
- Take notes to bring back to work, if you would like to attend more conferences the best way to get another green light down the road is to share what you leaned with the people you work with. When I presented my notes from my first SMRP conference at our group meeting back at work my boss told me that was the first time someone he worked with ever presented what they learned at a conference. I went to several others after that first.
- Last but not least, enjoy the conference! And, if you get a chance, stop by and say hello!