The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Conference Me Out

Let’s be honest here — if there’s one proposal to which your boss will always say “yes,” it’s a proposal that you attend a conference.

Ideally, the conference should be in some far-off destination, like the International Office Supplies Expo in Fairbanks, Alaska, or the Greenland Snack Machine Summit in downtown Kangerlussuaq. (Hold on a second! You were banned from the Kangerlussuaq Summit, as I remember. Something about dropping water bags on polar bears and drinking while mushing.)

Yes, your boss is always happy to pack your bags and send you packing. She doesn’t even ask you to bring back a T-shirt. It’s enough that you’re out of the office and out of her face.


Unfortunately for other wage-slave hamsters, running endlessly on the spinning wheel of commerce, drawing a ” Get out of office” card can be difficult.

It’s true! Some employees actually have to beg to go to a conference. Or so I recently learned in a Sue Shellenbarger column in “The Wall Street Journal.”

“Persuade the Boss You Will Really Work at the Conference” is the title, which may keep you from ever reading the piece, since it is unlikely you will ever try to persuade your boss you will be working at a conference when you can’t persuade him that you’re working at the office.

Still, there are some interesting strategies to be studied here, if only to show you how far your co-workers will go to get away from you.

Like the way Canadian marketing maven Natalie Burgwin convinced her boss to let her attend the hipper than hip SXSW Interactive Conference in cooler than cool Austin, Texas. Her proposal was that she would ignore all the pleasurable activities available to attendees, like the free iguana quesadillas served every day at 5 p.m. at the Kit Kat Kantina, in order to “help fulfill one of Bench’s goals: increasing public-speaking opportunities for Ian Crosby, chief executive officer and co-founder of the provider of accounting services and software.”

(Why everyone wouldn’t flock to hear a lecture on accounting services and software is beyond me. Personally, I think the subject is worthy of its own cable channel!)

As Burgwin’s masterpiece of persuasion proves, the way to get the go-ahead to go is to present your boss with a detailed list of all the advantages you will bring back from your adventures in conferenceland.

“‘Employees are more likely to get a green light if they present proposals promising to look for ways to increase sales or revenue, cut costs or make valuable new contacts,’ says Megan Tanel, a senior vice president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, a Milwaukee trade group. Many convention websites offer ‘attendance justification’ guides showing how to do this.'”

If skipping the iguana quesadillas proves insufficient, you may have to rely on these pre-packaged presentations. At least, take a look. Even if they don’t work at work, the justifications could be useful the next time you come in at 3 a.m., reeking of Jagermeister.

“Sorry, honey,” you say to your significant other. ” I was out making valuable new contacts.”

As Adam Justice, a vice president of Grid Connect, one of the lead companies in the exciting world of industrial sensors, is first to admit, “some of the richest takeaways from a conference can be difficult to quantify. ‘Sometimes you get inspiration and energy just from being around smart people with good ideas.'”

You will have to take Justice’s word for it. The last time you were around “smart people with good ideas” was when you accidently got off the elevator at the wrong floor and spent the morning wandering around the offices of a defunct Little Debby distributor.

One strategy for persuading your boss that you really, really want to go to a conference is offering to pay for part of the trip yourself. When Kevin Stanton, senior strategist at Phear Creative, a New York creative-content agency, wanted to attend a conference in Barcelona, he offered to pay his $800 hotel bill if his employer picked up the $900 airfare.

Stanton’s boss decided that if Kevin was “investing” in himself, the company should invest, too. I like this idea, but forget about the cheap hotel room and the coach-class flight.

Offer to pay for first class on the plane and the Presidential Suite at the La Quinta Inn if your boss will pick up your bar tab.

Trust me, you’ll come out way ahead.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at


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