In Praise of Conferences … Really!

Posted: October 18, 2015

260387_tmcn4486_hiI often share that I’ve attended a seminar or workshop. I’m charged by ideas flowing and the chance to expand my knowledge and contacts. That’s the lifelong learner and natural networker in me. And it’s critical to be aware of developments in the nonprofit world – and whenever possible, ahead of them. That’s true for me as a consultant, though it applies to everyone.

I’m frequently in an audience but last month I was a presenter as well. It’s not the first time. Still, it was a particularly valuable experience. Yes, I know conferences take up time – and we’re all pressed, without question. But there are good reasons to attend, whatever the topic. Let me give you a perspective I got from the panelist’s podium.

Meeting the Like-Minded

I presented at a New York Nonprofit (NYN) Media MarkCon event in Manhattan. My topic was social media – more of which I’ll share in a future blog. I did my homework and came to the conference well prepared to offer and discuss innovative approaches to how nonprofit board members can use social media as a tool and resource.

Both when engaging with my fellow panelists and responding to audience questions, I felt that great synergy of the like-minded coming together. There were different viewpoints, naturally, but everyone in the room had the common goal of getting new ideas and insights. Stop and consider the number of times that happens in a typical day. I’m not referring to what brings a staff together – the like-minded belief in your organization and mission. I mean interaction based on mutual interest that can spark everyone’s thinking and increase everybody’s knowledge. That’s what makes a conference time well spent and provides a dynamic takeaway worth the price of admission.

Agreeing to Disagree

The flip side is the opportunity for debate. Generally speaking, it’s acceptable at conferences and seminars to challenge ideas. Fundamentally they’re settings for learning. Others will consider your views based on the strength of your argument. I’m not saying anyone wants to be shouted down, but from what I’ve seen that rarely happens. It’s civil disagreement and it can help in sifting information to get at what’s accurate and valuable.

I’m as straightforward a panelist as I am sharing with you here. I state my honest views and always feel that frankness is welcomed. In fact, in our social media discussion, an audience member thanked me for being candid about the effectiveness of some platforms. Again, think about staff meetings or board meetings – who often speaks, who tends toward silence and how much actual discussion takes place. Obviously, it’s not comparing apples to apples. Internal meetings are not conference sessions. But the contrast can make the conference atmosphere feel all the more refreshing.

I’m not starting a conference service, so I have no hidden agenda. Though, full disclosure: I’d be happy to be part of more panels. For the chance to connect and learn, to exchange ideas and experiences thoughtfully and honestly – it’s a great way to spend a day!

Have a presentation need? Let’s talk!