Warning: The following reveals a deep and personal secret of the author. Proceed at your own risk.
There is a commercial airing right now where a girl says “when I had acne, I made up all kinds of excuses to stay in.” The commercial cuts to her saying things like “I heard that restaurant is haunted” or “I can’t go out tonight, my cat really needs me right now.”
Although I don’t suffer from acne, when it came to attending professional conferences, I was much the same as the girl in that commercial. The truth of the matter is – I’m an introvert. Being around people I don’t know in a closed social setting intimidates me. All those people mingling, chatting and laughing…makes me think it would be better if I just stood over here by myself.
Those of you who know me or have heard me speak at a conference or present on a webinar or podcast may be wondering how this can be true. I am amazed that it’s much easier for me to stand up in front of a crowd and speak than it is for me to walk into a packed room full of people I don’t know and engage in small talk. The latter scares the daylights out of me. In 2018, when I spoke at the annual International Crisis Management Conference, I had a harder time walking into a social gathering the night before the conference, than I did actually speaking. That’s just me.
As I’ve gotten deeper into the crisis management world and have expanded my network of colleagues and friends, I’ve come to realize that most of you are actually very nice people and that I shouldn’t let irrational fear stop me from attending a very rewarding event. (I’ve also learned a secret that makes the entire thing easier. I meet up with someone I know and hang out with them until I get a feel for the room). But fear aside, I’ve realized the value (both professionally and socially) in attending professional conferences and I’d like to share four benefits with you now.
From May 12th to 14th, the 5th Annual International Crisis Management Conference is coming back to Rhode Island! Of the many business continuity, disaster recovery and crisis management conferences out there, this one is my favorite! I will use ICMC as an example of the benefits of being a regular conference-goer. (By the way, I’m presenting a one-day training session on the principles of effective cyber response that focuses on the crisis management aspect of dealing with a cyber-attack. You should check it out).
1. It Expands Your Approach
Most people attend a conference for the opportunity to learn something new. One key benefit of attending ICMC would be to brush up on your skills or to learn a new way to go about accomplishing something. Maybe it’s learning a new approach to doing crisis communications or improving how you run a tabletop exercise. These are the type of things you can learn at ICMC – whether it’s through one of the one-day training courses, or by watching a presentation by the keynote speaker or one of the other conference presenters. Getting a new perspective on something that you’ve done countless times can breathe life into processes that may have become mundane. I find it interesting to learn how a colleague may approach a common task differently than I would and can come away with a new way of doing things. For example, at ICMC 2018 I listened to Deb Hileman talk about how some crises are self-inflicted because of the behavior of a company executive. This made me reconsider the importance of assessing the impact of such an event. Deb said during that conference that its “better to prepare and prevent than to repair and repent.” Deb expanded my approach on an important topic.
2. It Expands Your Network
I can’t even count how many new colleagues and friends that I’ve made by attending ICMC. It sounds odd, given my introvert status. But once we’re in the conference setting, my nerves settle down and I can speak to people at my table. I try to make a point to meet every speaker and let him or her know what I liked about their presentation or ask a specific question. (As an aside, if you’re going to a conference so that you can speak up and ask questions just to show everyone that you’re the smartest person in the room…do us a favor….please don’t). I connect with people on LinkedIn and make it a point to stay in touch. In some cases, I have the opportunity to follow them on Twitter or subscribe to their podcasts. This allows for continued learning. For example, by following Molly McPherson – who was at ICMC in 2019, I have greatly my improved my own crisis communications model. But don’t get me wrong, she’s still the master, I’m still the student.
In a world where it’s often ‘who you know’, expanding your network (again, with generally really nice people) is a great benefit of attending a conference.
3. It Expands Your Horizons
Attending one or two of the training sessions at ICMC gives you valuable, real-life exposure to hot topics in the world of crisis management. This year, in addition to my course on cyber response, ICMC is offering courses on the principles of crisis management, principles of simulation exercises and principles of crisis communications. Any one of these courses could allow you to expand your role within your company.
Maybe your organization hasn’t fully addressed how to respond to a cyber-attack. Come to the one-day session, learn the principles, leverage your existing knowledge of your organization and expand your horizons into the world of cyber-response. It doesn’t have to be that drastic of a leap. Let’s say that you’ve run some tabletop exercises in the past but would like to do a better job. Attend the principles of simulation exercises session and expand your horizon!
The beauty of these sessions is that they are based on best-practices and come of years of real-world experience. You’ll be learning in one day what some of us took years to figure out.
4. Being With Like-Minded People is Good For You
Bill Murray’s character in the movie Stripes said it best. “Let’s face it. There is something wrong with us, something seeeeeeriously wrong with us.” We do crisis for a living. We assess threats, plan for worst-case scenarios and prepare for days that hope never happen. But the truth of it is – it’s fun – and it’s fun to be around people who do the same thing.
The social aspect of these conferences is amazing. Again, you’ll expand your network, make new friends, commiserate on daily struggles and laugh at some of the things you’ve had to endure. After spending days on end pushing the rock uphill, telling executives about the importance of being ready for a crisis, it’s refreshing to spend time with people who actually agree with you.
What is your motivation for attending a conference? Let me know in the comment section below.
Oh, and if you see me at ICMC 2020 in May, come introduce yourself. As an introvert, it’s really nice when someone else breaks the ice.