Conference Advice
February 14, 2011 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Help me attend my first industry conference! Need advice on asking permission/presenting my case to mgmt.

(Anon because of job-related issues.) I have heard about an amazing-sounding conference that will be taking place in April. I would love to go, and have the type of creative job that could really benefit from being exposed to some outside ideas. My issues are:

1. It costs ~2500, which is considerable. Plus I would have to travel to get there, and get a hotel.

2. My job title is "interactive designer". There are "senior interactive designers" who are higher than me in the food chain, and others even higher. I feel like they should probably get the opportunity to go before me on principle, but they don't seem to care/be interested in further education and I really do care! I'm comparatively young (24) but it is frustrating to have to potentially have to defer to people who would probably want to go only after I have brought it up/researched it, etc.

As far as I know, my company has no policy on conferences. I've never really heard of anyone going, but we are a rapidly growing company (from about 100 employees last year to about 150 now)

3. Would there be a chance I would need to use vacation time for this? My instincts say no but I don't really have anyone to confirm this with without sounding stupid. I'm just worried that after adding up the cost of the conference, the travel, the hotel plus my inability to work on client work on those 3 days, the company might not look upon it favorably.

4.) What is the best way to bring this up? I have a "mentor" but he isn't a real decision maker and doesn't have the assertive personality to really go to bat for me. My plan right now is to mention it to him and ask for permission to speak with his superior.

Any advice on this would be appreciated. I realize its kind of a general question but I don't really have anyone to ask without coming out and asking my superiors, which I plan on doing after being more informed.

PS- All of my reviews have been great and I was promoted last summer, so my job performance should only help, although my job title is less than impressive.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What I would do is come up with an overview of total costs (ballparking airfare, hotel, per diem, registration, etc.) Then, really, think about (ready for jargon?) the value proposition for your company. Are there any learnings you can get from this conference that will have a direct or indirect impact on your job, coworkers, boss, all? Good! Then write those down or organize them in some fashion, and present it to your boss.

Depending on how formal your place of work is, you might write this up in a quick email or have a conversation with your boss. Oh: you could also ask about the conference policy as a way to break the ice on the topic.

A few other notes on your concerns:

2. This *could* work to your advantage, if you want, especially since FUSE offers a discounted rate once you get 3 people on board. ("It costs $x for me, but if me, Jane, and Joe go, it costs $x per person.") Otherwise, just pitch it as a growth opportunity for yourself - as long as it is.

3. Depends on the company, but I've *never* had to use personal time for conferences.

And on your promotion - first, congrats!, and second, don't fret about job titles too much right now. If someone on my team wanted to go to a conference, and it had a clear benefit, I'd be all for it no matter if they were an Engineer I or an Architect.
posted by hijinx at 1:04 PM on February 14, 2011

You shouldn't have to use vacation time for a conference. In fact, you should be paid to be there. It's work related, after all.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:20 PM on February 14, 2011

This is a negotiation process. Don't worry about other more senior colleagues, if they haven't asked to go, then its not relevant. Opening with a question about the conference policy is a good start. Do this face to face, not in email. Go in prepared, as hijinx suggests, with costs and most importantly, with an explanation of how you think this will benefit you. If you can think of benefits to the company or co-workers too, then even better (i.e. bringing back conference materials for others to use/read). I have had to do similar at all the companies I have worked at, in order to go to industry conferences.

I have at best, been sent to the conference and had my ticket, airfare and hotel paid for, but had to buy my own meals. At worst, I paid for my own ticket, airfare and hotel (actually stayed in someone else's room) and meals, but got my boss to agree that I wouldn't have to use vacation days. And then other conference trips were somewhere in between. Start out asking to be sent though, and bargain down as needed. Ticket price is the most expensive, so that is the last thing you should offer to pay for yourself. Hotel might not be too bad, there are often people at conferences who are looking for roomies to help defray the costs. Depending how far you are from the conference, airline ticket price might be manageable too.

One word of warning, some companies do not like sending employees to conferences because they are scared the employee will use it as a job-hunting expedition. Don't bring this up, but bear it in mind.
posted by Joh at 1:30 PM on February 14, 2011

Call the company and ask for tips. The salespeople do have talking points you can use with your boss, and suggestions on the best way to bring it up - it's their job, and they're really good at getting buy in from the right people. (If the person you talk to doesn't have tips, ask to speak with someone more experienced.)

In addition, you should pretty easily be able to get a discount from 10% to 25% of the top price, even for just one person, just by asking the salespeople or downloading the brochure. Discounts are very routine in this industry. They usually want you to have a discount code, but with a little bit of persistence, you should be able to swing a discount. (And maybe say you heard about the conference from one of the companies/organizations listed on the "supporters" page, so the salesperson can tell their boss why they gave you a discount without a code.)
posted by lesli212 at 1:35 PM on February 14, 2011

OP: "2. My job title is "interactive designer". There are "senior interactive designers" who are higher than me in the food chain, and others even higher. I feel like they should probably get the opportunity to go before me on principle, but they don't seem to care/be interested in further education and I really do care!"

Arguably, senior interactive designers worth the title should be able to speak at conferences. In fact, some firms use conferences as a way to gather clients or recruit new talent (you might not want to mention that part to the boss, if they're worried about retaining you).

OP: "4.) What is the best way to bring this up?"

Casually ask what percentage of the budget is spent on training and keeping up with current practices ("state of the art" is probably overselling things). You can chat with your mentor about it, but if you have a supervisor or someone who directs your time, they're the person you should be asking for permission, right?

Assuming they don't fire you on the spot for asking or insist there is zero budget for training and it will stay that way (no HR training on sexual harassment?), then you've got a chance to sell management on conferences. You'll be learning things, meeting people, and promoting your company to some degree.

OP: "3. Would there be a chance I would need to use vacation time for this?"

Not usually, no. If they ask you to foot the bill, it's technically a business expense that you can write off on taxes, and you might use the time to occasion to locate a new employer ;) My last job was in that kind of "omg cut all expenses" scenario, but I was able to keep up on the cheap via recorded conference videos. At 2.5k a ticket though, I wouldn't expect any such luck.

On the other hand, you should carefully consider whether this conference is relevant to you, your company and your clients. Imagine how transparent it looks when a coworker presents a case to go Google I/O and your company designs packaging not websites (Google I/O has had a trend of giving away 500 dollar devices as goodie bags, and 2011 sold out in 59 minutes). Similarly, it can be annoying to send someone out to a conference and they come back begging the company to spend money on product X by YZ Inc, a conference sponsor.

PS. A keynote on moleskein?
posted by pwnguin at 2:14 PM on February 14, 2011

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