Before Covid-19, attending conferences for emergency management staff was often a discussion when budget time rolled around. Was the significant cost of attending the conference worth the benefits of attendance? Well, pandemic or not, the answer to that question is that it depends on a few factors.
Before the pandemic, and likely again at some point in the future, emergency managers will have to determine what training opportunities they will budget for themselves and their staff. Conferences are sometimes a hard sell. They are expensive, due to the travel, and often in places that have many fun things to do that can easily be a distraction. Also, there are so many options, it can be hard to determine the best bang for your buck. Despite these concerns, conferences should be seriously considered as a training option.
There are many things that can be done to make the most of a conference. Carefully vetting conferences and making sure they are supported by well-known organizations and vendors can help make sure a quality choice is made. Double check the vendors who will sponsor the conference and be in the vendor hall, are they well-known reliable vendors? Is the organization putting on the conference well-known in the industry, is the conference attendance significant from precious years, has someone respected attended in the past with a positive experience? These are all questions that can be used to determine if a conference will be a quality experience.
Educationally, conferences offer the opportunity to hear a wide range of information in a very short time. Reviewing the presentation schedule before hand is often helpful in understanding what topics are being offered. Additionally, topics such as lessons learned presentations, new ideas and programs, as well as practical use of those are often not available in any other venue despite their usefulness. Conferences also give the opportunity to see speakers that are nationally recognized and would not be possible to see in other venues.
Outside of the educational opportunities, conferences provide other types of benefits. For example, conferences provide the opportunity to explore the vendor hall. Larger conferences attract a variety of vendors, both large and small, who are willing to discuss new products, provide demonstrations, and generally discuss how they might be able to help you solve an issue.
Another example is the opportunity for networking.
In the emergency management business, it is invaluable to have a list of people that can be called or emailed to answer questions, provide advice, and offer up what they have already done so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. For the person willing to talk to strangers, a conference can help greatly expand this list. In addition to the change meeting in a classroom or hallway, conferences offer up events specifically to contribute to the networking process.
For those who have not budgeted for a conference in the past, the options have changed significantly with the pandemic. Many face-to-face conferences have been offered as virtual events over the last year, sometimes for free. While this may not last, attending a free virtual conference provides educational opportunity as well as an understanding of conferences in general without the large price tag. Taking advantage of these can help with understanding the benefits so that future decision making can be more informed.
Please share below what you look for in a training conference.