Few safety professionals attend safety conferences. In fact, research we conducted in conjunction with BLR shows that only a third of safety managers attend national or regional safety gatherings.
This is partly because making the case to attend a safety conference can often be an uphill battle. And getting permission from an employer is only the first step. Once the green light’s been given, it’s important for safety folks to decide how they should spend their time at the conference in order to get the most out of their limited time.
It’s easy to overbook your time at one of these large events because there are so many talks to choose from. Safety tends to be most digestible in smaller chunks, so concentrate on what’s most important to you and your organization. Many EHS professionals have to fight to make a case for even attending safety conferences, so be selective about what you’re learning while you’re there to maximize your time and make the trip worthwhile. Consider the following:
1. What do you want to learn?
Identify your educational goals ahead of time based on the safety goals of your organization. You may want to learn more about PPE compliance, human factors training, or driving safety. Or maybe your focus is on developing personal skills. For example, learning how to deliver more engaging safety presentations can dramatically improve the efficacy of your training sessions and give you insights to share with your supervisory team. Regardless of what you want to learn, look specifically for sessions that directly address these points of interest.
2. Who’s presenting? (It makes a difference)
Nothing is worse than a speaker who doesn’t know how to actively engage a room. Speakers should be dynamic, thought-provoking, motivational, and extremely knowledgeable on the topic they’re presenting. Obviously, they should also have plenty of relevant experience. To determine whether they’ll provide a presentation worth attending, it helps to do some research beforehand. Consider looking up online clips of past presentations, which can offer a quick preview of the speaker’s style and knowledge. Many speakers with credibility will also have written on an issue. Why not read some of their writing if video footage isn’t available? If they are a strong writer whose ideas are interesting and compelling then their presentation is likely also worth penciling into your schedule.
3. What else are you planning to attend?
For most EHS professionals, it makes little sense to go to the considerable expense of traveling halfway across the country to attend a safety conference, just to see a bunch of presentations on the exact same topic.
According to the handy Attendee’s Guide to Safety Conferences, making the most of your learning experience is a matter of selecting a wide range of sessions:
A good session plan includes presentations on a number of different topics. The goal is to make sure you cover all your bases:
- Sessions on tried-and-true topics allow you to confirm best practices.
- Presentations in new areas get you in on the ground floor of innovative approaches and research.
The two big session categories you’ll want to balance are traditional compliance and human behavior as they are the most critical and offer major opportunities for improvement.
The guide has plenty of other good advice, and it’s worth downloading just for the session planning worksheet that comes with it.
4. How much time do you want for other activities?
There’s more to safety conferences than listening to speakers. Safety vendors spend a great deal of time putting together their booths and send some of their most knowledgeable people to staff them, so many of the most valuable learning opportunities come from speaking to a company rep. Avoid filling your entire schedule with one presentation after another. Leave time for networking, walking the conference floor, checking in with your workplace, and any other activities you may need to do. (Don’t forget that you’ll have to eat lunch at some point too.)
5. Be honest about what fits into your day
Prioritize topics that have the biggest implications for your safety program and be mindful of the time. Make sure you know how long each lecture is scheduled for, and the order you intend to attend them in. If possible, tackle the most relevant topics earlier on in the day so you don’t become fatigued. By approaching these events realistically, you’ll end up absorbing the most important information.