Avoiding conferences? How to bypass your stupid excuses!

Avoiding conferences? How to bypass your stupid excuses!

Conferences are like buses. You wait ages for the right one and then three of them come along at once. Over the past month I took three days out of the office to go to conferences. While it might sound as though I just love going to conferences I really don’t. As a one-person business taking the time and money to go makes me think twice before clicking “book ticket”.

I still have a bit of a post-academia hang up about conferences. Back in the good old bad old days of my PhD going to a conference meant submitting a paper abstract well in advance of the event. If the paper was selected it meant writing a 20 minute paper to deliver at one of the panels. Or rather procrastinating about writing the paper until the last minute before the panic set in. It meant applying for a travel grant which wouldn’t be approved of, or paid, until after the conference which required a fair bit of financial agility. Finding the cheapest form of transport and accommodation, paying for the conference ticket and then juggling credit cards. The travel grant only partially covered expenses when it eventually came through. On the positive side going to a conference was always a mind-expanding event, hearing about what others were researching and writing about and socialising with other people from the same strange tribe. In terms of return on investment, it was always worth the stress.

But when going to a conference means putting on an out of office message and then coping with the backlog of work it can seem easier to hide behind excuses and stay in the office.

I’m too busy, I can’t afford the time.

Work expands to fill the time available. If you add up the amount of time you spend doing things (Twitter, LinkedIn, daydreaming) that aren’t directly related to your work then over a week, it could easily add up to a day better spent at a conference. Plus you generally walk away from a conference having learned something that will save you time or bring in more money in the long term. Cut back on some of your social networking for a while and do some real-time networking instead.

It’s too expensive, I can’t afford it.

There are many ways to attend conferences without paying for your ticket. Try wearing a white shirt and black trousers and blending in with the catering staff. Just kidding, I’m not suggesting you become a conference-crasher (although I would definitely pay to see that movie!). Many conferences have early and ultra-early bird tickets at a discount if you book far enough in advance. In addition, some have sponsorship to cover the costs of attendees who might not otherwise be able to pay. Conference organisers are often very open to having volunteers to help on the day. This can be a really great way to network too as you have an assigned role that brings you into contact with many of the attendees and speakers. You might miss out on some parts of the conference but you’ll benefit in other ways and as they say, a half loaf is better than no bread.

Sure I already know everything, what’s the point in going?

No, you don’t! And if you do then there will be someone at the conference who could benefit from your experience. Go to a conference that isn’t directly related to your own area of work, but is more broadly related to your sector. Or go for the reassurance that yes you do know everything but you might meet a potential collaborator, client or new employer. A lot of the best stuff that happens at conferences takes place at the fringes – during the breaks and over drinks after the event. I came away from one conference having reconnected with people that I had met previously and with new contacts working on intriguing businesses. After the second conference, I left with a new lead, since converted to a client. The most recent conference gave me lots of industry-specific knowledge, new contacts made overseas and potential new sources of referrals and collaboration.

Aside from the new connections made and potential business opportunities it’s great to talk to other people who are dealing with or have overcome similar challenges.  So stop making stupid excuses and book your next conference today!

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