Paul Damico: How to make the most of attending a company conference

Paul Damico, President, Moe's Southwest Grill

Paul Damico, President, Moe’s Southwest Grill

Every year, your company conference creeps up. So, who’s going to plan it? Who needs to go? What does the agenda look like, and what is it we want people to take away from the experience? Set the stage from the beginning with a cross-functional planning committee, determine the key members of your team who need to attend and ensure at the end they have key takeaways.

Planning a meeting is no small task, especially when it involves hundreds, potentially thousands, of people. While meeting planning often is the job function of one person, a cross-functional planning team can have positive effects.

First, it ensures all your departments are represented and that the topics from each discipline will be discussed. Second, it brings perspectives from different people, and with that, new ideas. It also allows employees to get involved and develop new skills they may otherwise not have been exposed to.

Conferences can get expensive, and when you add in the fact that they are often in different states and last for several days, a company has to be strategic about who can attend. It’s important your senior leadership team attends, as those leaders will likely be the ones presenting the strategy and reporting on the team’s accomplishments.

While not all associates need to attend, be sure to include those who lead teams, those who interact with vendors and those who have a purpose for being there. For employees who don’t attend year after year, it could be a nice surprise to invite one or two a year that don’t typically make the list.

Vendors are vital to a company’s success, whether they are partners of record or help on a project basis. It’s important they are invited, have a seat at the table, and hear the same messages your team does, because they are an extension of your team.

So now you’re at the conference and your team is attending the general sessions. They go to the break-outs. They listen to a guest speaker. They visit the vendor fair. Conferences are so much more than just following the agenda. I challenge you and your teams at the next conference to do the following:

Make a friend — There are always people you don’t know at conferences; many people attend just to network. Take the time to meet new people and get to know what they do and how they contribute to your company’s success. Keep in touch with the people you meet.

Develop existing relationships — If you have acquaintances at conferences, think about how you can take your business relationship with them to the next level, whether it’s learning something new about them or their business.

Learn something new — Lots of new information and ideas are shared at conferences. Attend with an open mind and be ready to learn. Take two or three new learnings and put together an action plan around them.

Recognize accomplishments — Conferences are a great opportunity to publicly recognize both employees and vendors who contributed to your company’s success.

In addition to celebrating accomplishments, it’s a good time to inspire attendees about the future. Conference themes that are reflective of the company’s long-term objectives will help ensure associates and vendors at all levels leave with a common understanding of the company’s strategies and what it is counting on them to accomplish.

Paul Damico is president of Atlanta based Moe’s Southwest Grill, a fast-casual restaurant franchise with over 490 locations nationwide. Paul has been a leader in the foodservice industry for more than 20 years with companies such as SSP America, FoodBrand, LLC; and Host Marriott. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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