In November I attended SUPCONF NYC.  Not only was this my first SUPCONF, it was the first time I had asked my employer to pay for a conference, or educational event, ever. Being someone who tends to shy away from potential conflict, I almost didn’t even ask them if I could go.  

I was excited and wanted to be a part of SUPCONF, but I didn’t know how to convey the value to my company of paying for me to fly to NYC and spend a few days away from tickets. Weighing on my mind the most, though, was the fear of them saying no.  

Last week the question came up from a member of our community about how to sell your employer on the idea of attending a conference.  After a great discussion, and pulling from my own fears and experience, below are some tips your own pitch.  

TL/DR

Below are the details, but here are the basics.  Having these key items ready will help you be prepared for the discussion!

  • A clear picture of what the conference is and why it is important to you
  • A list of goals for what you want to get out of the conference, and how you will share this knowledge when you return
  • The cost – How much is airfare, the conference fee, hotels and any other accommodations?  Who will cover your essential tasks while you’re gone?

Now, more details.

Be clear

Give a clear picture of what the conference is, and why it is important to you.  Show your passion for the people who will be there, the content, and the connections you will make. This may be hard if you’ve never experienced a particular event before, but something made you excited to attend.  Share this emotion and excitement with your boss and other decision makers.  

List your goals

Are you attending this conference to grow personally, or to grow your team?  Both are very important.

Let your boss know as much as you can about your expectations for the conference.  

Perhaps there is a speaker or topic you’re particularly interested in, or folks who will be there that you’re looking forward to meeting.  

List down the ways you plan to use this education and these connections once you are back home.    

Present the team building and community aspect

Is more than one member of your team going to be able to attend the conference?  That’s awesome!  Remember to speak to the team building opportunities the conference will afford – especially for folks who work remotely.

Beyond your teammates, having a strong community and feeling connection is essential to long-term job satisfaction.  Meeting like-minded folks at a conference can help you gain this sense of inclusion.  

Chances are there is someone at the conference who is where you are now, or who has been there before.  Speaking to this important human connection can help add a heart to your request.   

Plan a learning session for post-conference

Once you return, being able to teach your team or other coworkers what you learned at the conference is a great way to share the wealth.  

Plan a share session ahead of time to let the team know you’re serious about sharing this knowledge.  Make sure you give yourself a week or so to get your feet back on the ground, and your thoughts together before the session.  

Not the teaching type?  Blog posts or internal documents are a great way to share as well!

Go in with numbers and a plan, and don’t forget to ask the awkward questions

Know the cost of travel, accommodations, the conference fee and any other expenses up front, when you first ask.  

Also make a plan for who will be covering tickets (or your other duties) while you are gone.  Being away from your job means that others will have to step in and cover your tasks.  Can some things you do wait until you get back?  If not, who will cover this?  

Being prepared conveys you are serious, and keeps time from being lost in as you check on these details.    

Spending other people’s money is a bit tricky, so there are bound to be a few awkward questions.  

Do I book the travel on the company card, or my own card and then I’m reimbursed?  Is food covered during my travel, or just hotel and flight? Do I take vacation days for the time I am away, or am I paid as if I was working on these days?  

None of these questions are easy to ask (trust me – I know) but getting this clarity beforehand keeps there from being hard feelings or misunderstandings down the line.  

The worst they can say is “Not now”

It seems scary, but it isn’t the end of the world.  Perhaps now isn’t the best time financially, coverage wise, or for other reasons, or maybe they are excited to send you.  You will never know until you ask.  Go in with a solid plan, and if now isn’t the best time, the seed is planted for next time.   

In the end, I asked my employer to attend SUPCONF NYC.  They had a lot of questions about what we would gain from the conference and how much it would cost.   After listening to all of my points, they were excited to send me along and to hear my stories and learnings when I got back.

Have you asked for educational or conference money before?  What tips do you have?