(And any other Fire and EMS Conference you attend in future!)
By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
For those of you fortunate enough to be able to attend FRI 2013 in the “Windy City” this week I say, “BAH, Humbug!” Just kidding! I’m actually very jealous because I had the opportunity to attend FRI 2010 in Chicago, as well as FRI 2009 in Dallas, so I know what a great conference it’s going to be and how much you’re going to enjoy the learning sessions, presentations, networking and social events, etc.
So what’s a “Conference Commando?”
I first came across the term in a piece by Scott Kirsner in Fast Company magazine entitled The Conference Commando Field Manual. Kisner describes a “conference commando” as:
…people who treat a few days at an industry or professional gathering as a surgical strike that generates value for their company, that helps their career, and that shapes their perspective on the future. These conference commandos live by the guiding principles of an economy built on networks — that whom you know is as important as what you know, and that you have to update what you know by continually encountering new ideas…
Why Should You Be a Conference Commando (CC)?
You’re a leader and manager within you’re organization, right? Probably have an In-Box at work that’s teetering on collapse, an e-mail In-Box that hasn’t been clear since the day it was set up, and more daily “brush fires” than…I get the picture! So when you have the opportunity to attend a conference like FRI or FDIC or EMS Today (or get “tagged” by your boss to go) you want a proper ROMTI (Return on My Time Invested).
And let’s not forget that your organization has got a “dog in this fight” as well. The cost for conference registration, airfare, lodging, and meals represents an investment by the organization of at least a couple thousand dollars per person who attends (For small to medium sized departments this can represent a significant “chunk” of the training budget for the year). So your bosses are going to looking for a good ROTIIY (Return on Their Investment in You).
What are Your Conference Objectives?
You should have a plan prior to attending the conference so that you maximize you time at both formal conference events (presentations, general sessions, classes, etc.) and informal conference events (social events, networking events, etc.). Here are a few of my “time-tested” techniques for being “in the field” as a CC:
Leverage technology to stay informed and educated. Use your wireless device (phone or tablet) to stay connected with your social media accounts…but with a twist. For example, set up a List in your Twitter account that contains the user name for the conference, for example, @FireRescueIntl is the user name for FRI 2013, along with only those users that you want to follow during the conference. This will keep you “in the know” about conference events, changes to schedules, hours for social events, etc.
You can also use text messaging, instant messaging, direct messages in Facebook, Twitter (and most other social media apps) to keep in touch with other attendees as the day goes on.
Divide and conquer. If you’re attending the conference with others from your organization, don’t attend the same sessions—everybody take a different one and compare notes at the end of the day and when you return home. (I’m a huge believer in an “end of day” debrief because you not only compare “notes” on your respective sessions, but you’ll keep everyone “pumped up” for the rest of the conference).
Get out of your comfort zone. Sit with people you don’t know and introduce yourself to the person on your left and on your right before the presentation begins. I’ve found that people generally like polite and outgoing people, especially in a room of strangers. Besides, you’re really not strangers—you’re in the same business and you’re in that particular session together because it’s a common interest!
Use that camera on your phone. This is the real “recon” function of your attendance: gather intel on products, vendors, tools and techniques to share when you return home (Remember, there’s a reason they sent you!). I like using the Evernote™ app for my Android phone because it lets me take the photo with my phone and then file it in Evernote™ where I can add descriptive text, put it in a folder and add tag words to make it easier to find later (Among the hundred other photos I’ve taken at a conference).
I also use my phone to take a photo of the new people I meet—along with a quick note about them—and then file those in Evernote™ in a separate Conference People folder. That way, later when I’m talking to that person on the phone or communicating by e-mail their picture helps make a better connection.
Conferences are a great way to meet influential people in our business (I’ll never forget the evening early in my career at the Virginia EMS Symposium in Roanoke, Virginia when I had the opportunity at the end of the day to have a couple of “golden beverages” while listening to the late Jim Page “hold court” in the lounge until well into the evening). They are also a great venue to stay current with our profession, learn about new methods, products, and techniques–and get “re-energized” for when you return to the job.
So learn to be a Conference Commando and get maximum ROMTI and ROTIIY!