How to Get Your Boss to Green-Light Your Conference Request

Approaching your boss to get approval for attending a conference can be intimidating. After all, you are asking the company to pay for you to be out of the office. Even if you spend the entire time engaging in business discussions, you are still leaving behind a pile of work (and probably having more fun than your co-workers).

However, it is possible to sell your boss on the value of a conference. However, for your pitch to fall on receptive ears, you will need to have a plan ready for coordinating the logistics, and you must be ready to demonstrate how the company will benefit from your attendance.

Follow the advice from these 15 experts to convince your boss that the conference you want to attend is worth the investment.

Find Out Who is Hosting, Attending and Teaching

Research the speakers and hosts of the conference as well as which vendors will have booths there. Your boss might need someone who can meet with those vendors in-person to talk about solutions for your company. If your boss is already familiar with a few of those names, that will add credibility to your plan.

It is also likely that you will have competitors at the conference. Be sure to mention this and highlight your attending the same conference negates any competitive edge they might have enjoyed.

Identify How You Learn

Some people learn through listening to speakers and hearing case studies. Others want to work with breakout groups to solve problems. Sharlyn Lauby, the HR Bartender, encourages would-be conference attendees to make note of their learning styles and find a conference that matches it.

Also, research which vendors will have booths there. Your boss might need someone who can meet with those vendors in-person to talk about solutions for your company.

It is also likely that you will have competitors at the conference. Be sure to mention this and highlight your attending the same conference negates any competitive edge they might have enjoyed.

Research Other Conference Options

Plenty of employees want to attend conferences in California or Florida during the winter months — especially if they have spent the winter shoveling five feet of snow out of the driveway. However, address any potential objections that you are really looking for a vacation, show that you have considered other industry options and done your research to prove the warm-weather conference is the best one.

For example, the team at Content Marketing Conference boasts a 10-to-1 attendee to speaker ratio, which ensures attendees get time to speak to the top experts in their field.

As you conduct your research, consider the location, length, dates and size to see which options are best for your company. A nearby conference might be convenient, but a larger conference out of state could give you the information you need.

Search for Conferences by Industry and Topic

Typically, there are two types of conferences to choose from: industry-related and topic-specific. For example, a business analyst in the healthcare field might have the choice of conferences about the healthcare industry in general or conferences that address specific skills in business analytics. 

“While there are countless reasons why you should attend your own industry conferences, it is equally as important to consider attending events that specifically focus on marketing within your clients’ industries,” the team at Seer Interactive writes.

Favor conferences that will benefit you specifically, as these will have a bigger impact on your growth, your work and your company.

Create a Sample Agenda for Your Time There

Kayleigh Weaver at Clear Impact encourages readers to create a sample agenda with specific sections you plan to attend. Many conferences upload their agendas ahead of time, so you can pick the best seminars that will help you professionally.

Along with the agenda, jot down a few reasons why each seminar will advance your knowledge or skills. This will show that you’ve thought through the value of the conference to the company.

Set Clear Goals for Attending

business analyst networking

Look for needs within your company and present the conference as a step toward addressing those needs. Brian Bimschleger shares one example of how sending employees to a conference created a whole new business arm within the organization:

“Last year a few members of our team traveled to Texas to attend and experience design conference,” he writes. “A year later, after the attendees taught our internal team, we launched it as an agency service. That is about as impactful as you can get in terms of driving growth!”

Plan the Logistics for Travel and Accommodation

While you’re planning your agenda, research how you would get to and from the conference. Allison Gauss at Classy offers a few questions that you should know the answer to before you pitch your boss:

  • Can you drive there, or is it more efficient to fly?

  • What is the average cost of nearby hotels?

  • Are tickets cheaper if you buy them in advance?

With this information, you can prove that you have thoroughly considered the impact of the trip and understand the financial costs to the company. You can also present a timeline for action by setting deadlines before early ticket windows close.

Know Your Company’s Guidelines for Conferences

Look for specific guidelines within your company to see whether there is a precedent for training, Charley Mendoza writes at TutsPlus. Your organization might have a set amount allocated each year for training or have requirements for training employees before promoting them.

If your company does not have a clear-cut training policy, look for past precedent. Which employees have gone to conferences in the past? How were they successful in asking to go? This will give you an idea of how likely your request is to get approved.

Directly State That You Want to Attend the Conference

Be direct when you ask to attend a conference. AJ Agrawal has seen people dance around the subject and fail to get a clear answer because management doesn’t understand why the topic is important, or even what the employee wants. Agrawal encourages employees to be direct, even if speaking in front of management is intimidating.

“A winner will go right up to their boss and say exactly what they mean,” Agrawal writes. “They want to go to the conference, and they are asking whether they can go and whether the company will foot the bill for it. It does not always lead to a positive answer, but you get a firm answer, and you know exactly where you stand.”

It’s OK to Show Excitement

When you present your request, make sure your excitement for the opportunity shows. Jeremy Goldman writes that excitement is contagious, and your manager could catch some of your enthusiasm as you make your presentation. This also shows you care about your job and want to perform better.

Sometimes, employees try to appear too professional and hide their eagerness. This can be counterproductive: Your boss might actually read your professional detachment as apathy.

Specifically Provide Benefits to Your Boss

You might think professional development and company opportunities are enough to get a “yes” for your conference request. But some managers want to know what’s in it for them. The team at Women in Digital encourage readers to highlight benefits to all levels of the company — including to your manager personally.

For example, will this conference give you the skills to cover for your co-workers or manager if they’re sick? These are the kinds of tangible benefits some bosses want to see.

Highlight the Importance of In-Person Networking

business analyst coffe break

If there are mentors, vendors or experts whom you have struggled to connect with, look to see which conferences they attend. 

"It's easy to ignore an email. A follow-up email. Even a voicemail,” the team at Create & Cultivate writes. “But if you take advantage of the golden opportunities ... it could open a myriad of doors — not only for you, but for your company, as well.”

Emphasize the value of in-person networking that forms at conferences. Even waiting in line for coffee or finding a table at lunch can create useful connections.

Look for Data to Improve Your Argument

If your boss is still on the fence about letting you attend, conduct research to back up your claims on the benefits of attending.

“Employees who have a higher likelihood of persuading their bosses are those who make the strongest case via data and clear projections,” Max Altschuler writes at Sales Hacker. “While some of the benefits conference participants gain are difficult to measure (such as newly-found energy and inspiration), most are readily verifiable or measurable in some way.”  

Often, conferences provide statistics on attendees and what they learned from past years. This information can be proof that the conference is truly relevant and educational.

Ask the Awkward Questions

Chelsea at Support Driven admits that it can be awkward to talk about money, but you have to research the awkward questions and prepare to ask them during your pitch. A few of these awkward questions include:

  • Will you need a company card on the trip?

  • Is food covered, and is there a per diem?

  • Can you fly in the day before or stay an extra day for convenience?

  • Is there a cap on the price of the hotel?

Most companies have policies in place for this. (Most companies, it seems, would prefer employees not stay at the most expensive hotels and bill the company for endless cocktails.)

Getting answers to these questions will make it easier for you to plan the trip and continue to prove that you thought the whole process through.

Return With Clear Objectives for Change

Once you get back, make sure you highlight exactly what you learned and include actionable steps your company can take to get better. The team organizing the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference highlights three ways employees can share this knowledge:

  • Use a staff meeting to review what you learned and any next steps that you recommend.

  • Write a blog post about something you learned.

  • Create a presentation for your manager and co-workers that you can give during a lunch-and-learn.

If anything you learned has a significant impact on your company, make a note of what impact it had. This will help you make a stronger case the next time you ask to attend a conference.

You may not get approval for this particular conference, but this pitch sets a precedent for your interest in attending these events. Even if this pitch leads to a “no,” your next pitch could lead to a “yes.”

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