Solutions Spotlight

Maximizing Education at Professional Conferences – Part II

June 16, 2017:

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.

Educational Sessions

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.

The Naysayers

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.

Feel free to read Part 1 and Part 3 of Walter's series on Industry Conferences published previously in the Daily.

Professional Bio:
Walter Palmer is recognized as a thought leader in the retail loss prevention industry with over 30 years of experience as a practitioner, consultant, and researcher. He has been an invited speaker for more than 100 events and conferences around the globe including the Middle East, Europe, South America and Asia. He has authored over 50 feature articles and is a regular contributor for industry and mainstream media. Walter works with many leading retailers in the U.S. and around the globe as President of PCG Solutions, Inc., a consulting, training, and awareness company focused specifically on retail asset protection and safety.

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 Protection Professional, Certified Fraud Examiner, and Certified Forensic Interviewer. He serves on the Editorial Advisory Board for LP Magazine, the Advisory Board for the International Association of Interviewers, and the Advisory Committee for the National Shoplifting Prevention Coalition. Walter is also actively involved in the field of professional development and training and is a member of the American Society for Training and Development, the International Society for Performance Improvement, and the Society for Human Resource Management.

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