“I don’t have time this year to attend a conference.  I’m too busy with work!”  It’s easy to tell ourselves that we can’t get to a conference this time.  After all, there’s the travel to the conference, the cost, time awaiting reimbursement and the never-ending ding of the mobile device letting you know that while you’re in sessions, people at your organization still need you to be doing your compliance work.  But while it may seem easy to skip conference attendance, you shouldn’t.  Going to conferences helped (and continues to help) me to answer three critical career-defining questions.

Question 1: What do I do if I’m downsized or ready for a promotion?

About a month ago I got a call from a former colleague of mine.  After 15 years in the same blue-chip company, the compliance function had been moved to an office in another state, and he wasn’t invited to go.  He was devastated.  He’d seen an ad for a job he was interested in, and he noted that I was connected to the hiring manager via LinkedIn.  Could I offer an introduction?  You bet I could.

The reason I could help him was because I’d met the hiring manager at a conference three years earlier.  We’d kept in touch and I was able to put them in contact and send his resume along.  Guess what?  He got the job.  There is truth to the adage that you must create your network BEFORE you need it.  The best jobs are almost always filled by people who come with a recommendation from a trusted source.  By attending conferences you build your network now, before you need it. 

If you find yourself downsized or your company goes out of business, there’s nothing like a vibrant network to help you find your next role.  Alternatively, if you’ve outgrown your current job, your network can be your eyes and ears to get you that promotion you so richly deserve.

Question 2: How am I supposed to know what best practices are and what other companies are doing?

“Well, what are other companies doing?”  This vexing question is asked a hundred times a day throughout the world when compliance officers meet with management to discuss new laws.  Whether it’s the new European General Data Protection Regulation or the UK Modern Slavery Act, people at your company not only expect you to know the law- they also expect you to know what to do about complying with it.  Conferences are fantastic places to learn what other companies are doing with the same challenges you’re facing. 

We’re lucky in compliance in that we’re able to share our work strategies with each other without fear of antitrust violations.  The ability to take advantage of other people and company’s knowledge is one of the best things about conference attendance.

Question 3: Why is she having such a good time?

When I left legal private practice to go in-house, my boss sent me to the European SCCE Compliance and Ethics Institute.  I was miserable.  I didn’t know anyone and I felt lonely and uncomfortable standing by myself.  However, by the afternoon of the first day I’d introduced myself to one of the speakers, and she and I struck up a conversation.  That conversation turned into a friendship, and she invited me to talk to some of her other friends in the industry. 

This year I’m performing the Keynote at the Health Care Compliance Institute and the European Compliance and Ethics Institute in Maryland, as well as performing break-out sessions at the SCCE conference in Las Vegas this fall.  I’ll also be speaking at the Women in Compliance Conference in London in March.  I’m genuinely looking forward to it, because I have friends that I only get to see at the conferences.  By working through my discomfort at the first conference, I built relationships that make it so I’m thrilled to be going to the conference this year. 

So what do you say, shall we meet up this year?  National City, London, Prague or Vegas?  All four?  Fantastic.  I can’t wait to see you there.