Rocking Your Next Meeting
How to maximize your claims conference attendance.
Whether you are a frontline claims professional or the vice president of claims, chances are you will need continuing education (CE) credits this year. One way to get a lot of CE credits at once is to attend a claims conference. (Maybe you’re already prepping for the CLM Annual Conference, held this year in Nashville March 29-31.) Before packing your suitcase and snagging tickets to the Grand Ole Opry, step back and ponder how you can maximize the value of attending the conference—or for that matter, any professional confab.
Recognize that CE is not a luxury; it is a necessity. In a 1972 article in American Psychologist, author Samuel S. Dubin described the half-life of a professional’s competence as the time after completion of professional training when, because of new developments, practicing professionals become roughly half as competent as they were upon graduation to meet the demands of their profession.
Many employers have initiatives that show management’s support for CE. These can include recognition, paying fees and expenses, and a willingness to send claims professionals to offsite conferences for several days in order to complete their CE requirements. For some, CE is an ethical obligation as well as a licensing requirement. The CPCU and RPA designations require that you maintain and improve professional knowledge, skills, and competence.
Other employers may not fully support CE and will not pay for the travel and expense of a conference or will not allow the time away from the office to attend a conference that is several days in duration. This leaves you with two choices: Try to convince your employer that the CE is worthwhile, or take vacation time to attend the conference and pay for it yourself.
Obviously, the first option is more desirable. When asking for the time and money to attend a conference, point out the advantages of CE. Attendance at a conference will expose you to new ideas and technologies, case law, and statutory law updates and allow you to update your skills to meet changing industry and customer needs. In order to convince these employers that CE is a necessity, you need to prove the value of the CE offered at the particular conference you wish to attend. This can be done through careful planning. Let’s look at the three phases of conference attendance—before, during, and after.
Before the Conference
Assess your company’s aims and client needs. Begin your preconference planning by ascertaining what your employer wants you to do next and what your customers need you to do in the future. View attendance at a conference as a growth opportunity and CE as your own personal research and development. Take a critical and honest look at your skills and discuss the company’s future needs with your manager. Find out what customers will need in the next three to five years. Focus on what benefits your company and, in turn, what will benefit your career. Focus your CE decisions to your business and career objectives, not just meeting a CE requirement. You need to learn not only about the business of insurance, but also about the business of the insured or the claimant, so make sure that your session selections encompass both of these objectives. Put your plan in writing, and then identify sources of CE and put money in the budget.
Pick your sessions based on subject matter and your learning style. Once you have a commitment to attend a conference, review the sessions and tracks, then plot the sessions that you want to attend and that best suit your learning style. For example, a lecture may not be for you, but one with interactive roleplay would be great. Discuss the sessions that you wish to attend with your supervisor or manager, making sure to pick sessions that will deliver maximum value. This is vital, especially if sessions are concurrent and attending one means missing others. Attend panels and presentations on topics closest to the claims that you handle or the challenges that you face most in your department.
During the Conference
Dress the part. Many conferences say little about dress code in their brochures, so do your best to determine appropriate dress in advance. Two options loom: You can assume that the default dress code is formal business, or you can phone the conference host or organizer and ask.
One role you fill at business conferences is that you are your company’s ambassador. Being an effective corporate flag-bearer includes looking the part and being professional. Do not attend a conference with an “I’m on holiday” mindset. You are on stage, so look professional and plan attire that is appropriate for the conference.
Get in early and find a good seat. While it may seem fashionable to arrive late, dawdling can get you relegated to the back of the room or unable to get a seat. It’s about networking, so sit near the front and introduce yourself to the person to your left and right. Get out your pen and pad and prepare to take notes. When you attend the conference, really be present. Turn off the cell phone and other devices, pay attention to the speakers, and participate in the interactive parts of the session.
Take notes. Capture “nuggets” that you want to remember after the conference, such as resources to check out later, ideas and projects they trigger, and people with whom you want to connect. Also, taking notes keeps your head in the game by engaging more than one sense.
Collect handouts. When you return to your hotel room, cull through and determine those that are keepers and those that have little relevance for you. If you see a great PowerPoint presentation, ask the speaker if the slides will be made available. Some conferences offer them on the event’s website; others publish a hard copy of the slides in a conference booklet or program. Occasionally, presenters will have a hard copy of PowerPoints as handouts.
Pack ample business cards. If you connect with a potential client or business partner during a reception, breakout session, or lunch, be ready to exchange business cards. Put them in your wallet/purse, computer bag, and notepad if it has a pocket so you are never without.
Keep a running tab of action items. During the conference, keep track of those things that you’ll want to follow up on after returning to the office. When you get back to the office, make sure to follow up by marking a day on your calendar to review the action list. Transfer each action item onto your daily task list or, if you use Outlook, build a list of future calendared tasks. Sprinkle them among advance dates on your calendar.
Network during breaks. Resist the temptation to check phone messages, place calls, and retrieve email. You can do those tasks anywhere. What you cannot get anywhere, though, is face time with other professionals. Breaks can be very valuable, so use them to meet new people, exchange business cards, chat with new acquaintances, or reconnect with existing contacts.
Organize receipts and expenses at each day’s end. Completing expense forms is a distasteful but necessary part of conference attendance. Make it less onerous by doing a little each day. Before your trip, grab an empty envelope and label it (e.g., “Receipts – CLM Trip”). Dump receipts in it at the end of each day. Save your company’s expense account template to your laptop’s hard drive and fill in the expenses daily.
Pace yourself and monitor your energy level. This includes your, ahem, “night-time activities.” Be careful about the amount you eat, your alcohol intake, how late you stay out, and the amount of sleep you get. These all impact your mood, attitude, energy, mental focus, and fluency when interacting with others.
After the Conference
Put a copy of the course curriculum in your personnel file. Review it at the end of the year to see if your personal growth objectives have been met.
Use and share what you learn. Upon return, integrate what you have learned into regular work practices. Reinforce newly learned behaviors and skills. If your handwriting is ragged, type your notes or dictate them and have someone transcribe them. Share them with co-workers, along with useful handouts. Scan them and email a copy as an attachment, with a short cover note. Save copies of useful handouts to your hard drive for future reference. Taking the initiative—without being asked—to share what you’ve learned blunts the perception that the conference was a waste of time and money, and it better positions you to gain approval for future traveling requests.
Use those business cards. What to do with all of those business cards? Transfer the information from them into your “Contacts” database, whether that is Outlook, a Rolodex, or a tabbed notebook. Note when and where you met the person. Follow up with an email to each, saying how nice it was to meet them at the conference. If there are business development possibilities, put on your calendar recurring reminders to follow up with a phone call, email, or a visit. Consider using a free app like CamCard to organize them electronically.
Show management the value of conference attendance. Upper management always wonders how much value conferences actually add, especially given the loss of productivity when employees are away from the office. Many conferences are annual events, so if the conference is good and you want to attend again, check the dates for next year’s event. Put the dates on your calendar and mark the time of the meeting as tentative. Also, factor in conference expenses when drafting next year’s budget. Include that in the budget to increase the odds that you can attend again.
Following these suggestions should help maximize the benefit to you and to your employer and make planning for the next conference much easier. Pack these tips along with your clothes, smartphone, and laptop before flying to Nashville for the CLM Annual Conference or for any industry gathering.