The Value of Industry Conferences – Part I
April 23, 2018:
By Walt Palmer, CFE, CFI, Practice Leader – EPIC Integrated Risk Solutions
Over the past 30 years, I have attended well over 150 professional conferences around the globe and, as a result, I might have just a little insight into the value that can be had from active participation in these events. In fact, a number of years ago, I wrote a series of pieces about maximizing the value of industry conferences that received a lot of attention and comments, so it is time to update the articles and see how well they have weathered the years and to add a few new observations.
One of the exciting developments in the LP/AP industry over the past 18 years has been the explosion of professional development opportunities available to practitioners at every level. We are well past the days when there were only a couple of conferences that were only attended by senior LP executives.
In those days, a District LP Manager could only look to a couple of venues for professional development. If their company held an annual LP meeting, they might have the opportunity to learn some new skills, network with some of their peers from across the organization, and perhaps be exposed to some different lines of thinking. Other than that, one would hope that the company would pay for them to attend a WZ course on interview and interrogation.
But, that was about the limit of opportunities available then. The industry environment looks much different today and there are a multitude of opportunities for LP professionals to advance their skills and improve their effectiveness.
First, there are several excellent conferences put on by major trade groups such as NRF, RILA, RLPSA, and ASIS International. Each of these organizations has a dedicated group of professionals who serve on their advisory boards and help the association plan the conference agenda. Over the past 15 years or so, there have been more and more field staff attending and, as a result, these conferences offer sessions that cover a wide gamut of topics geared towards the spectrum of attendees. While each association may have a slightly different focus, I have never failed to learn new info and gain new perspective from these shows.
Second, there are a number of specialized or regional conferences and meetings that are held throughout the year. Some of the ones that come to mind are:
IAI’s Elite Training Day
Regional ORCA groups
CFI Regional Chapter meetings
Local ASIS Chapter meetings
Each of these provides another opportunity for field staff, who may not get the chance to attend a national conference, to avail themselves to professional development.
Third, in addition to conferences, there are numerous other opportunities for motivated professionals to get involved in the industry. There are industry certifications in place now such as the CFI, LPC, LPQ, and CPP. One could contribute an article or get involved with LP Magazine, Security Management, or other trade publications. There are “user groups” sponsored by various vendors that give the opportunity to learn and network around a specific product or issue. There are many more opportunities than I have time to detail.
The point is this – there are no excuses for a young AP/LP professional failing to develop their skillset and knowledge base. It has been over 25 years since Rosabeth Moss Kanter observed, “Employability is the new job security” and this rings especially true in a specialized industry such as ours.
Now that we are in “conference season,” I’ll share a few articles in the upcoming weeks that give you some tactics for making the most of industry conferences, should you have the opportunity to attend. In the next article, we’ll discuss how to maximize what you learn at these conferences.
Maximizing Education at Professional Conferences – Part II
April 26, 2018:
By Walt Palmer, CFE, CFI, Practice Leader – EPIC Integrated Risk Solutions
Attendance at an industry conferences offers several opportunities – education, networking, vendor exhibit halls, one on one meetings with other attendees, and, of course, many receptions and social events. Each of these activities can bring value to your professional development, but, this week, I want to focus on how you maximize the amount of professional education you achieve at a conference.
Unfortunately, too many attendees give short shrift to the educational sessions. At events like RILA and NRF, you will probably have twenty or more sessions to choose from over the course of 2-3 days. At bigger trade shows, like ASIS or the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), the sessions actually number in the 100’s.
Now, will every session appeal to you? Of course not. Most associations intentionally try to cover a spectrum of topics to ensure they address the concerns of a somewhat diverse attendee list, but there may be slots where you feel like there is nothing particularly relevant to you or your organization. Here’s my recommendation in that situation, “Attend a session anyway!”
Maybe, just maybe, it is possible that a session on developing an effective training program on safety in the distribution network might yield some insights for you as you develop a training program for the stores on shrink. Perhaps a session on managing investigators in the field might ring a bell with you as to a technique or method you can use to manage direct reports at the corporate office. Hearing what someone is doing in the grocery store business relative to spoilage might lead you to different thinking on how you manage damages in your environment.
Too often, it seems, we want solutions wrapped up in a nice bow and given to us in exactly the place and time we, and our organization, are living in. If that is your expectation, you might as well stay home because it is an unrealistic one. As audience members, you have to do some work to find a way to apply the message from the session.
In addition, who knows what responsibilities you might have in the future? Maybe you will be promoted or maybe you will change companies or maybe you will go from big-box hardline retail into mall-based apparel specialty retail. A session or lesson that you might not be able to apply today could be a key issue for you in four months.
Let’s address the most common negative comments you may hear about the educational sessions and I’ll give my take on them.
The speaker was awful/monotone/unprepared/a dufus.
Does this happen? Yes, of course. The nature of having volunteers present on a big stage sometimes leads to less than perfect presentation skills. The industry associations do their best to run quality control, but it is an inexact science. Can it be painful to sit through? Yes, of course. But, try to get past the style and focus on listening for the substance. There are some really bright individuals in the business world who are not polished speakers. And, yes, I have actually heard attendees describe a speaker as a “dufus.”
This is going to be more and more of the same ol’, same ol’
Do I ever get bored of hearing another presentation on training programs or what it is like to be a new Director or ORC or fill in the blank? Yes, of course. But, sometimes I’m also surprised at a new insight that I have not heard before. Or, maybe I’m reminded of something I’ve heard in the past but had let slip from my attention. Maybe I hear a familiar message but get to know a little about the presenter that I have not met before.
Don’t you think professional athletes get tired of doing the same basic fundamental drills over and over again? But, they do it because we all need to be reminded of the fundamental building blocks of our craft and profession.
A “Secret” Tip to Learn More
What about the session that you attend that is really good, has great applicability to your organization, and is something you want to take back and implement? What can you do to learn more?
It is simple. All you have to do is go up to the speaker after the session and exchange contact information and set up a time, while you are both still at the conference, to ask some additional questions. Ideally, this happens right at the conclusion of the session. If the speaker has another commitment they have to go to, try and set a specific time and place to meet that afternoon to talk further.
You will almost always find the speaker is willing to spend some time with you. Chances are they are passionate about the topic (that is why they were on stage to begin with). They have spent hours and hours on this topic and the presentation and most assuredly were not able to cover every bit of knowledge they have on the subject in the allotted time. They probably have more examples of what they have done in their organization and may also be able to refer you to additional resources.
If you are not able to meet at the conference, wait about four days from the conclusion and send a polite email complimenting them on their presentation (every speaker likes to hear this) and asking for some time to chat with them on the phone.
It is Up to You
Ultimately, you have to decide how much value the educational sessions have to offer you. Perhaps you, unlike me or most of the folks I know in our business, know all the answers yourself and within your company. If so, kudos to you and enjoy your time at the pool or on the golf course. Otherwise, I’ll see you in the sessions.
Networking at Industry Conferences – Part III
April 27, 2018:
By Walt Palmer, CFE, CFI, Practice Leader – EPIC Integrated Risk Solutions
What is Networking?
“Networking” is a term that get used, abused, and confused throughout the business community. Some see it as “being slick” or simply collecting the business cards at a conference or something as simple as sending a boiler-plate message on Linkedin to “connect” with another professional. None of those practices constitute useful, professional networking – at least not in my experience.
Productive networking occurs when you make a connection that you build on over the course of time until such point that the “connection” becomes a “relationship.” This does not necessarily mean a close personal friendship. But, relationship suggests that there are shared reference points, a level of trust, and a willingness to help each other.
I’ll be the first to admit that I look forward to industry conferences. At some of the larger shows, I might know 200+ other attendees by name and have fairly strong relationships with 50-75 of them. So, for me, going to a show is a great chance to catch up with my network, find out what new ideas or activities they have going on in their business, and ask for their input on issues that are on my plate. But, the reason I know all of these people is because I’ve been going to shows for over 25 years and I have cultivated these relationships over a long period of time.
The Value of a Network
This article is clearly going to advocate for becoming better at networking. Why? Because the benefits it will bring to you and your organization over the course of time can be invaluable. Notice, I included “your organization” in that statement. Many times, we think of networking in terms of what it can do for “me.” And, certainly, if, for some reason, you were in search of a new position or opportunity, a strong network can help you. That, by itself, might be a good enough reason to finish reading this piece.
However, it is clear that your organization can benefit from your networking, as well. Over the years, there have been too many times to count where I was faced with an issue at work where we were struggling to find answers and, by simply making a few phone calls, I was able to benefit from the experience of several other individuals and organizations which had dealt with a similar situation and found the appropriate solution. How many weeks of trial and error, how many adverse outcomes/results might have been experienced, and how much unnecessary expense might have been incurred by my company otherwise?
Tips for Networking at Industry Conferences
Even if you accept the notion that networking is a good thing for both you and your company, there is still the difficulty, for most of us, in actually building those links. Some might say, “Oh, it is easy for you, Walter, because you are an extrovert and enjoy this kind of stuff!” While some of that is true, it can still be intimidating for anyone to network and this is why I want to give you some specific tips for how you might consciously work on this at an upcoming show.
Introduce Yourself to Others at Your Table. While waiting for a session to start, take a few minutes to introduce yourself to the others at your table. All it takes is for one person to start the process and you’ll find that everyone follows suit. There are lifelong connections I have made in my career that germinated by a simple introduction at a seminar session.
Go to the New Attendees Orientation. If the conference has a welcome reception for first-time attendees, go to it. First of all, you know you will share one thing in common with everyone in the room. Second, you will know that they are all as nervous as you. And, third, you will look like a professional with great poise if you initiate introductions and break the ice. Plus, there will be several experienced individuals in the room from the trade association and, probably, some representatives from their advisory council. Meet them and you have a gateway to many other introductions.
Attend round-table session. These sessions, by their very nature, provide greater opportunity to speak with the other participants, hear what is on their minds, and solicit their input. I rarely attend a round-table session where there is not an exchange of business cards among participants.
Ask a Trusted Vendor to Make Introductions. If you work with a vendor partner who you trust and who is attending the show, ask them to introduce you to other practitioners they trust. Most conferences feature an exhibit hall environment and this is an easy way to make several connections an hour and start with at least some common frame of reference.
Avoid the Pack Mentality. If you are attending a conference with several other people from your organization, there is a natural tendency to hang out with these folks at every session, at every reception, and at every dinner. However, if you never step away from the group, you may never meet anyone else. As a group, plan some time to leave “home base” and meet some others.
Leverage Your Co-workers and Friends. On the other hand, attending a conference with several people you know also represents an opportunity. Ask your co-workers to introduce you to some of their contacts or professionals they have worked with at other companies. The combination of your relationship to the one party and their shared history makes it easy to find common ground to discuss.
If you will have the courage to act on some of the above recommendations, you will be on your way to building a real professional network. This is not to say you will walk away from one conference with strong relationships with each of these people, but you will have a base to build upon. Remember, the best relationships are those that are built on over the course of time.
Good luck and I look forward to meeting you soon!
Walter is recognized as a leading consultant in the Loss Prevention industry and provides strategic guidance, research, and training programs for some of the leading retail brands in the world. He has been an invited speaker at more than 100 conferences around the globe and has authored over 60 articles for industry and mainstream media.
Walter earned his B.S. degree in Security and Loss Prevention with a minor Fire Safety Engineering from Eastern Kentucky University. He is a Certified Fraud Examiner and Certified Forensic Interviewer. He is a contributing writer for LP Magazine, serves on the Advisory Board for the International Association of Interviewers, and serves on the Advisory Committee for the National Shoplifting Prevention Coalition. In addition, Walter is actively involved in the field of professional development and training and is a member of the Association for Talent Development, the International Society for Performance Improvement, and the Society for Human Resource Management