Friday, June 7, 2013

Conferences Aren’t the Problem

As someone who plans a lot of seminars and conferences, I’m pretty disheartened to see yet another story about government excess when it comes to meetings.  Now it’s the IRS’s turn, but it follows on the heels of similar concerns raised last year about the General Services Administration.

I consider myself an experienced conference goer.  I not only plan professional meetings for my clients, by I also attend them for my own education and professional development.  It’s disappointing to hear this dialogue because there’s so much good that can come from well-produced meetings.  Many of us work long hours, often in more isolation than we’d like.  We attend one-hour webinars at our desks during lunch so we can cram even more into our days.

Attending conferences in person offers the opportunity to renew our focus, gain new insights and network and learn from our peers.  In the not-for-profit sector, at least, I think we are correctly placing the emphasis on the learning goals, while facilitating networking as well. 

There are plenty of good models to follow to accomplish this.  Why does government continue to have such a hard time hitting the mark?  Since meeting planning is one of my services, I was contacted by a government agency last year about planning a large conference for them.  But when I delved into the details, they required a give-away item of significant value for each attendee, a higher-end meeting facility and full-color printing of large documents.  For a public body, the priorities seemed oddly inconsistent with what taxpayer dollars should be used for.

There is value to be gained from the direct interaction that comes from conferences and meetings.  Unfortunately, government agencies will likely respond to recent criticism by further eliminating this valuable tool.  The real message that needs to be received is that there are efficient and effective ways to deliver meetings.  Look to the not-for-profit organizations and businesses that have already mastered it.  


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