Preparing for Conference Season

No matter your construction focus, attending an annual conference is not only a great idea, it can and often does provide you with profit-increasing and production-improvement ideas.
No matter your construction focus, attending an annual conference is not only a great idea, it can and often does provide you with profit-increasing and production-improvement ideas.

For most contractors interested in professional growth, learning more about their industry, checking out new equipment, and just getting away to think about their company’s future, attending an industry conference is usually in the cards. And with many national conventions just around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to provide some practical ideas to maximize your attendance.

Whether your specialty is concrete, asphalt, roofing, electrical, masonry, excavation, general construction, decorative concrete, iron and steel, mechanical, sheet rock, striping, sealcoating, landscaping, plumbing - OK, I’m getting tired noting all of the incredibly important specialties there are in construction. You get the idea.

No matter your construction focus, attending an annual conference is not only a great idea, it can and often does provide you with profit-increasing and production-improvement ideas. However, exactly how much you get from attending a conference is greatly dependent on how you prepare. So, consider a few ways to increase and enhance your next learning experience at a convention or conference late this year or early next.

1. Please…review carefully the educational opportunities

It still amazes me how many contractors just plan on going to a convention and will sign up for “something” once they arrive. Not only is this poor planning, it speaks volumes about how that contractor runs his or her business or project. Most of the national conventions provide a pre-convention syllabus about the education classes offered, when demonstrations will be provided, and which suppliers will be showing. I give the attending an “A+” for coming to the convention but an “F” for failing to plan ahead and having a strategy for what they want to gain.

2. Divide and conquer

Once you have studied the convention offerings, consider who you will be sending to the conference and split up your team to attend a wide variety of meetings and demonstrations. While there may be some classes or demonstrations that would be good for all of your folks to attend together, with so much in the offering at a convention it might be wise to gain a wider base of information by splitting up your “goers” to attend different sessions and then bring the information back to the team.

3. Pick attendees selectively & require expectations be set

Attending a convention for the first time is especially exciting for most attendees. However, putting a first-time attendee in a city like, say, Las Vegas, can be like taking a child into a toy store. With all of the other “temptations” that can be experienced outside the convention alone, you would be wise to get your folks specifically matched up with those classes they need.

Attending a conference should be viewed as an honor and one that will produce positive results for both the individual attending and your company. After selecting those individuals who will be attending the convention and after having chosen those sessions the individual will be attending, have the same individuals identify what their goals or expectations are for learning. They should write this down for you, keeping a copy for themselves.

Having sent employees to conferences in the past myself, here are three questions I always incorporated into their going to a convention. They were told that when they returned from the conference, that they would present to me their answers to the following questions:

  1. What did you learn overall?
  2. What did you learn that would improve your individual work?
  3. What did you learn that would improve our company?

To really answer these questions they would have needed to first attend each session and then take good notes on the session’s learning points.

4. Conduct a daily convention “debrief”

If you are attending the same convention with any of your workers, get a daily debrief by having a short meeting, before going to dinner, to allow everyone to update one another on the classes they observed, their take-aways and learning points, and how they can see any lessons learned helping the company. This is a great way to keep the interest alive, place a bit more accountability on each person to listen with more focus during the classes attended, and begin to think in terms of application. You can still have the employees provide a presentation based on the questions presented in #3 above, but having daily “debrief” can generate better learning.

5. Gather speaker’s contact info & ask for extra handouts

After almost 25 years of speaking at construction conventions and conferences, I am still amazed at how many contractors and their workers who “sneak in and out” of classes. Why a contractor would pay hundreds of dollars for classes and then not be more assertive to find out more information about helping his company is beyond me. While not all contractors are comfortable with communication, the environment at a construction-themed conference is full of the same contractors, all who want to be better, or they wouldn’t be attending. Losers don’t attend such conferences, thinking they know it all anyway.

Don’t be shy about approaching the session speakers. That’s what they are there to do, assist you. Ask them questions that may not have been addressed or that you wanted to ask privately. Ask the speaker for their recommended articles and books to acquire.

6. Create a list of learning points & prioritize

I’ve told convention goers for years that they need to list out all of their learning points from attending a convention and then prioritize the items. Why? When most contractors attend a convention, especially for the first time, they can leave the conference with hundreds of ideas. Confusion and frustration can set in as a contractor tries to determine where to start. In fact, the frustration is similar to a mosquito buzzing in to a nudist colony…sort of hard to tell where to get started first.

Another point on prioritizing items learned: Look at working on your first three to five items on the list. To think you and your company can work on 15 to 100 items in one year is just foolish. Look at how to make the best three to five tips part of your company THIS YEAR, then you can move to the next three to five the following year.

Now, as you work on implementing the first three to five tips and you find you’re moving further ahead than you first imagined, then certainly take on the next few and begin working on implementing them.

7. Build a library of workbooks & expect others to checkout

Depending on the size of your company, you may not take everyone to a convention. From those who do attend, however, use their workbooks and create a library for other workers to checkout the workbooks to review. In fact, several contractors I work with have engaged those who attended the workshop to teach it as best they could to those back home who were not in attendance. This certainly places a bit more accountability on those who attended the conference, but it’s a great way to make attending the meetings more important.

Sending your employees to a national or regional construction convention is a waste unless you build more into the expectations. The days of sending workers to conferences and treating it like a “perk” or vacation will yield you nothing in return. While convention hotspots such as Las Vegas, Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, etc., are certainly relaxing places to visit, placing greater importance on learning and holding people accountable to providing some output of information upon their return will provide you with a great “R.O.E.”…Return on Education!

Send as many workers as you can to your next national convention…just be sure to use as many of the tips shared in this article to help maximize their learning and your future results!