It's not what you know

Melanie Loizou, Director of Campus Services at Royal Holloway, University of London, explores the merit in attending conferences

Most of us are guilty of struggling to justify spending time away from the office to attend a conference. I know I am. But quality time spent with your professional peers should never be underestimated.

I always think that one of the best reasons to attend a conference is the invaluable networking opportunity it provides. Let's face it, where else can you find so many contacts facing the same issues of increased student fees, attracting quality students and providing more for less? Are there solutions you're not aware of? What works and what doesn't? Exchanging business cards, making new contacts and sharing your thoughts and experiences can be of huge benefit. They say it's not what you know, it's who you know. I like to think that what you know is pretty important too, but who you know can't hurt either.

Clearly the information presented at the conference needs to be of value in order to grab your attention, so let's not discount the actual knowledge you can take away. Hopefully a conference will have you leaving armed with new ideas that will enable you to try something different.

Not to be ignored either is the value in taking a break from your daily routine. Time away from the office can be refreshing and re-energising, particularly when it is a few days focused on your profession, yet removed from your usual hectic daily schedule of back-to-back meetings and countless interruptions. Conferences enable you to step back and reflect on your role and your university, as well as giving you a bit of 'me' time.

Coaching, the art of improving the performance of others by helping them to learn, rather than by teaching them, provides targeted results in less time than any other learning intervention. As managers, we all know that positive coaching allows individuals to develop their potential and apply it productively in the workplace. The more they practise their new skills, the better they get, leading to them tackling bigger challenges with more skill and confidence and achieving better results for their organisation and for themselves.

All of this is good news for the institution and for the 'coached' individuals. But the start point needs to be the coaching of managers, so that they can create that positive impact on their own careers as well as on those of others.