If you are like me, you find yourself living life at what seems like the speed of light. Commitments at work, responsibilities at home, events at your child’s school or maybe even your own if you are pursuing an advanced degree; it frequently seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to fit it all in. And for me, it always seems like a major deadline always looms the week after AFP Annual Conference!
So in the days and weeks leading up to Conference, I find myself questioning whether I can really afford three days out of the office. Three days! For me, a few questions always loom as I prepare to leave the office: How will I be able to be away for that long? How will I get my work done and still be present for the actual conference sessions and events? What was I thinking when I registered for this conference? Did I remember to go over the list of outstanding projects and corresponding deliverables with my team before I left?
STEP 1: PLAN
But then I look at the conference app and start laying out my schedule. Between Executive Institute, networking opportunities in the Exhibit Hall and multiple education session choices, my day is packed from early morning to dinner, and beyond. While many education session topics are a great refresher, there are always several that pique my interest: What the heck is blockchain, anyway? I have no idea, but the Executive Institute sessions on key topics like leadership and panel discussions are always worthwhile. And the industry roundtables afford me the opportunity to engage with my peers on new projects (blockchain anyone?) as well as comparing notes on issues that are unique to my business. Since pension and benefits administration is also part of my responsibilities, I always try to attend a session or two on this topic as it’s not easy to find training in this area unless you are a very large plan sponsor. In-house banking is always a favorite since the intersection of technology and best practices really can impact this process. And one of my favorite sessions from a few years ago was on negotiating skills as taught by a former hostage negotiator. That’s not a topic that you usually come across in any type of finance training, but it is incredibly useful in my role every day!
STEP 2: BE PRESENT
As hard as it is for me to put my phone down and focus on the educational sessions, inevitably I come away with a sense of inspiration and some really good ideas to share with my team – the reward for putting down my phone. Regardless of how many ideas you have, and how talented your team may be, without the opportunity to step back and shake off the daily minutiae, unfortunately it is very easy to get stuck in the moment and lose sight of the horizon. The ability to step back and look at what we do every day with a fresh perspective is really crucial to long term success. Hearing the stories of other panelists, and asking questions about their experience, is always incredibly inspiring. Inevitably I’ll think about something I heard that is relevant to a problem I am trying to solve and have an “Aha!” moment. But this still hasn’t happened with blockchain, just in case you were wondering! (Looking forward to wrapping my head around it at Conference.)
STEP 3: MAXIMIZE YOUR TIME
For most people, networking is definitely an acquired skill. But with so many key contacts in one place, it’s actually hard to not connect with someone you know. With a little bit of planning, it’s relatively easy to schedule a few coffee breaks to meet with my bankers as well as re-connect with my peers. And you always meet someone you know in the exhibit hall! Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that my bank relationship managers are attending conference with their treasury peers. The ability to meet with multiple members of the relationship team, including senior management, over the span of a few days, is incredibly efficient. But conference also provides the opportunity to check out new vendors and product demos in a no-risk way. In the market for a TMS? Every major vendor is here and doing demos on the spot. If the demo isn’t what you expected, or the product doesn’t meet your needs, you’ve only invested 15 or 30 minutes. But if it does, you have the opportunity to have an in-depth discussion or set a time to follow-up back at the office. If all else fails, you can swing through the exhibit hall and collect the ever-important freebies. Who doesn’t need another stress ball to bring back to the office?
All of a sudden, three days don’t seem like enough!
And now I’m asking myself, Can I really afford not to go?
Ann Anthony, CTP
Treasurer, South Jersey Industries, Inc.
Board Member, AFP