It’s not you, it’s him

A boss who requires elaborate justification for sending you to an annual conference of your peers is being purposely obtuse.

Occasionally but persistently, it is suggested to me by persons hoping to attend the PSA's World Conference and other events, that I create and publish a rationale that they may use to convince their boss to send them.

I have resisted, and I'll tell you why.

Other conference conveners do this for their folks, offering on the conference promo site a list of "Top 5 Reasons to Attend."

I paraphrase:

  1. Meet the best people in the business.
  2. Network with your peers and make useful connections.
  3. Learn best practices to improve your work.
  4. Stay relevant by keeping up on the latest ideas (and fashionable jargon, of course).
  5. Bring what you've learned back to the home office to bring the whole team up to speed.

Some conference organizations go as far as to create a sample memo for the hopeful conference-goer to send to the manager:

I will bring back new ideas, best practices and solutions that we can implement right away. Additionally, I will develop an overview of what I have learned and actionable takeaways for the team so that we can work together to move the department and [insert organization name] forward. It’s not just about my personal development. By successfully using what I learn at the [insert conference name], I will help us improve our bottom line.

Luckily, most of our customers are speechwriters and by the time they let you write speeches you're usually far enough along in your career to know better than to lie to your boss. "In conclusion, it would be fiscally irresponsible and not to send me to the conference!" 

And presumably speechwriters' bosses are far enough along in their career to know why people attend professional conferences. 

If you want to attend a conference and your boss requires you to beg, you have one more more of the following larger problems.

  1. Your boss is afraid you actually want to attend the conference to find your next boss.
  2. Your boss doesn't believe in professional development, which means your boss doesn't believe in human development, which means your boss is a flatliner, and you should be looking for your next boss.
  3. Your boss doesn't like you enough to give you this paltry professional perk without your having to sing for your per diem.

If I ran a corporate communication department, I would require people I sent to conferences to send a debriefing memo to me and everyone in the department for our edification. And I would encourage the person to lead interested colleagues in an informal lunch conversation within a week of returning, about the implications of those insights. I think those expectations would ensure that people seek out quality conferences and take good notes while they are there.

But beyond that: As stultifying as modern work life is and as parochial as most corporate cultures are, attending at least one conference a year seems to me to be closer to a basic white-collar labor right.

The rationale? 

  1. To be reminded that things are tough all over, and the grass ain't always greener.
  2. To get one precious lungful of intellectual oxygen to last throughout the year.
  3. To get, for a few precious days while everyone else is working, the fuck out of Dodge.

And if your boss isn't cool enough to grant you that every now and again? I don't think some boilerplate rationale from the conference company's going to make a difference.

Or is there something I'm missing? —DM

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