See that chap standing at the back of the team photo, above, with the light bouncing off his shiny, bald head? He looks confident, prepared and happy to be representing his organization among the movers and shakers in his industry.
But the camera is lying – there's no confidence there. That's me, with the rest of the Mind Tools team, waiting for the doors to open at the 2017 Learning Technologies exhibition in London. It's Europe's leading annual L&D event, and showcases the latest in organizational learning, and the technology that supports it.
I wasn't mentally rehearsing how I'd introduce Mind Tools to visitors attending the event. The only thoughts in my head were, "Don't embarrass the firm today!" and, "I should have shaved. People don't trust blokes with beards!"
When you're comfortable with a background role at work, actually representing your organization – being one of its public faces at an important industry event – can be daunting. My default response was to find reasons why someone else would be more qualified for the task. But each increasingly desperate excuse was shot down by the exhibition team leader:
What I should have done was to look at the positives: if the company didn't think I was up to it, they wouldn't have asked; it would be an opportunity to meet existing and potential customers in person; I'd get a first-hand look at the state of the industry; I'd see how we compared with our competitors; importantly, I'd get to know my colleagues from other teams a lot better; and hey, it'd be two days out of the office in a swanky London hotel on the company tab!
As it turned out, all of the positive aspects came to pass. After an initial phase of adopting the health workers' mantra of "first, do no harm" and trying to toe a company line that didn't really exist, I relaxed and grew increasingly comfortable with meeting and greeting the great and the good of L&D.
It turns out they weren't all on a personal mission to catch me out or to demand our product for next to nothing. They were ordinary people looking to enhance their own learning experience, or that of their people. Who'd have thought it?
Also, as well as being a valuable personal experience, one that will help me to do my job better by learning what people want from Mind Tools, there were other fringe benefits. When your working day is spent glued to a keyboard, it was hugely satisfying to hear people say how much they enjoyed using our articles, and how our resources had benefited their careers. Also, at an event like this, a quick sweep of the other exhibitors' stands harvested me enough free pens, mouse mats, notebooks, and cell phone rests to see me through to retirement!
It's for the "bean counters" to determine the value to the company of attending such events – monetary or otherwise – but my personal ROI in many areas was very healthily in the black.
What have you learned from representing your organization at a conference or trade event? Share your thoughts in the box, below.
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