How Do You Justify Attending a Work Conference?

When I was part of the government/contractor industrial complex, I spent a surprising amount of time writing up justifications for individuals seeking approval to attend a business conference related to work. Why is this so difficult? Not sure, but perhaps the tips below will help you as you’re writing your own (or your boss’s) legitimate justification to attend an event that just happens to be in Orlando, Las Vegas, Vail, Honolulu, et cetera.

As with travel reports, employers want to know that they’re getting their money’s worth and not paying for air, hotel, and MI&E (miscellaneous and incidental expenses) just so you can ski in Vail, Colorado, or water ski in Maui. You might do some of that in your free time, but ideally, you’re there to work. Here’s what you need to focus on while discussing the work portion of your business travel before the event.

Education

Most conferences provide sessions/seminars that are directly related to new techniques or information for people in your particular field. Be sure to list the specifics of the class(es) you plan to attend, their topic, and how they can benefit you and your organization by using said content. If you have a current project that requires a particular skill that you lack/need, so much the better! Be sure to cite that in your justification.

Updates on the industry

One of the functions business development folks fulfill at industry conferences is collecting business intelligence: what are your customers doing? What are your competitors doing? What are your partners doing? How can any or all of that activity be used to your organization’s advantage? Sometimes organizations use conferences as opportunities to make a big announcement, such as landing a new contract or unveiling a new product or service. All of this activity affects your organization’s competitive position, directly or indirectly, so it’s important to be mindful not just of what your group is doing, but everyone else as well.

Networking/sales

As regular readers of this blog are no doubt aware, I’m a big fan of networking. Conferences are an excellent opportunity to build your face-to-face network–contacts and peers within your industry, faces that you can connect to names, and people you can call if you have a question later about X.

Part of the learning-what-the-neighbors-are-doing thing can include a certain amount of business development:

  • Identifying new potential customers/business.
  • Learning about new needs from current customers.
  • Expanding on existing work/business.
  • Identifying new potential partners.
  • Make actual sales
  • Sign business/partnering agreements

All of these activities are possible but not necessary components of your participation in a conference, but the more of them you can realistically attempt while attending will build your case for attending beforehand. Your trip report is where you discuss what you actually did compared to what you intended to do during the justification/approval process.

As for the skiing, water-skiing, and other stuff you might happen to do while on business travel, don’t get too carried away and, if you’re very wise, you won’t share too much of it on social media.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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