Many large companies, especially the multi-national corporations (MNC), invite managers to conferences. Do not hesitate to accept and be there for the entire conference including the social elements. Participate enthusiastically and you will benefit from attending.
When you have read this article you will understand why.
For many years I was a senior marketing executive with an MNC. Its headquarters are in Paris, it has offices worldwide and manufacturing facilities in Western Europe, the USA, China and Australia. My position involved a lot of overseas travel. It was always challenging and often exciting. In my time I met Presidents, government ministers, and the CEO's and Board members of major businesses.
I attended a lot of that company's conferences around the world; from Pasadena to Shanghai, from Brussels to Singapore, from Paris to Kuala Lumpur. Additionally, I went to conferences that the company paid for me to attend, to improve my experience, make valuable contacts, and hold meetings with important players in the market. Particularly memorable was the annual conference in Honolulu, every January, in a venue adjacent to Waikiki beach.
The company conferences ranged from marketing to strategy, to detailed discussions of organisation. Every year an Area Conference was held and the President and CEO of the MNC attended and made his own presentation about the company, together with the Area President and other senior executives from Paris and the from the region.
The conferences were usually held in the Ballrooms of 5 Star hotels, in which the attendees had rooms reserved for them by the company. Suites for the top managers, of course, in which I was often called to meetings over breakfast or after dinner.
The presentations were always impressive. A specialist company was hired to design and set up the room. The graphics and the audio-visual aspects were superbly managed. The presenters, all of them, were required to rehearse the day before, and it showed in the slickness of the presentations during the conference.
They usually lasted two days. The first evening after our arrival would be informal, with a cocktail party first, followed by a buffet dinner or sometimes by a barbecue. In, some countries, particularly in the tropics, these events were held around the swimming pool.
The dress code was smart casual, except for the formal dinner on the second night to which VIPs from the hosting country were often invited. I remember being placed on a table in the Shangri La in Singapore with B. G. Lee. He is now the Prime Minister of Singapore.
Often sight-seeing tours were also arranged after the conference was over. I was taken around Beverly Hills in LA and then on to Universal Studios; also around the old parts of Brussels and the Grimaldi Palace in Monaco. These were very relaxed events with plenty of food and beer taken along.
Why are these events important to you, the reader, and the employee of the company?
You will learn about the company you work for. You will hear about its financial situation, its strategy for growth, its senior management team, its products and its problems, some of which you will be expected to play a part in solving. You will learn about the company's style of management.
You will meet a lot of people there. You may meet the President of the company himself and some Board Directors who, in my experience, are always willing to meet the company's managers and listen to their opinions. You will also meet many other managers from various parts of the company including head office. Some of the contacts may be very useful to the success of your management later on. Make sure you take a lot of business cards with you. Network your way around at the social events, and ask for a card from anybody you think may be of value. I recommend that, when you get back to your office, you send an e-mail to the contacts you believe may be able to help you at some point in the future. Tell them that you valued the opportunity of talking to them and that you look forward to talking to them again. Use words which will prompt a reply and then you will automatically be added to their list of e-mail addresses.
- Meetings are often held in the margins of company conferences and if you think you need to be present then go to them, gatecrash if necessary. Unless the meeting is very confidential, nobody is likely to object. Also be ready for private one on one meetings. Some of my most useful meetings took place in a hotel room over a glass of whiskey after dinner.
- Most conferences these days do not take questions from the floor. Mobile phone numbers are usually displayed on screens so questions can be sent by text. Take every opportunity to send in a good question and make sure you include your name and position in the text. Any chance of raising your profile is good for your future in the company.
- Some of the sessions may seem irrelevant to your position, but if attendees are expected to sign in, then you had better be there. You may still learn something and make another good contact.
By way of example of the need to network at conferences, I once received a call from the Executive Secretary of a Cabinet Minister in an Asian country, asking if I could arrange for his boss to meet a French government member of the same rank and responsibility, during a forthcoming trip to Paris. I telephoned one of my conference contacts in the company's Head Office. He arranged the requested meeting successfully and quickly. After the return of my client I received a letter from the Minister, thanking me for arranging the meeting, giving me a personal mobile phone number and a private e-mail address. I was invited to use these details if needed for any problems, business or personal. I once took advantage of that offer!