sector insights
04 f 2022

Industry and Professional Association Pride

Article written by Paul Bodlovich, Senior Projects Consultant WA, NFP Success. Paul has served on Boards and been a CEO of several Industry and Professional Asssociations. 

For much of my career as a not for profit sector CEO there was a steady stream of requests being made of me to speak at industry conferences.   The opportunities haven’t been there so much in recent times of course, however I have been wondering about whether it will be of value to start seeking such opportunities again as the world opens up post-COVID.

For context, I’ve spoken and presented at dozens of engagements across four industries on three continents and six Australian states.  

This has led me to reflect on whether it is a worthwhile endeavour, and if so – why?

Assuming that attending a good quality industry conference is valuable, it’s clear that speaking at one supercharges many of the benefits.  It also will usually come with some very pragmatic positives – your attendance fee will be waived, and you may even find your travel and accommodation being subsidised.  On both counts it may not be saving you money personally, but it will be noticed by your employer.

If those things aren’t enough (and maybe they are!), then ask yourself the following questions:

-        How often have a group of people lined up to speak to you and take your business card when you’ve just been sitting watching a panel session?

-        How much quality time have you got to spend with speakers at conferences?

-        How many times has someone said to you “I saw you speak on topic X at the conference and am hoping you might be able to help me”?

-        How many times has someone asked “I really liked the ideas you spoke about and was wondering if you’d be interested in joining our Board/ committee/ working group / company”?

-        How often have you been approached for a media interview from just attending a conference?

 In short, you become part of a small privileged cohort within a larger group.  That’s largely about putting you up in lights, but also benefits your organisation and industry.  Quality presentations by its representatives raise the reputation of your employer/ group/ cause, because it’s an opportunity to present your pitch to a room of people. 

As a bit of an aside, I also came to a point in my career as an Association CEO when it became obvious that the opportunity for our business was to spread the load across our staff group.I was working in the environment sector, where conferences and seminars are almost a weekly occurrence.  Taking this approach meant not only that we could secure the benefit of being represented far more than I could achieve myself, but also gave our team members the opportunity to build their own networks and opportunities.  

I’ll give an example of the benefit that can flow from speaking at a conference. In the early 2000s I was CEO at the WA Music Industry Association.  I attended a music industry conference in Brisbane where I met with one of the international speakers who was pitching a tech start-up based out of Boston.  For him, that meeting ultimately led to our organisation doing thousands of dollars of business with him.  Our legitimisation of his product contributed to sales in the hundreds of thousands in Australia over the next decade.

For me though, it led to an introduction six months later (at another conference, this time in Austin, Texas) that led to an invitation to speak at the legendary CMJ Music Marathon in New York.  That invitation allowed me to leverage some government funding to cover my travel costs, and went on to deliver two significant high-level outcomes.

Firstly, it led to an ongoing opportunity to present Australian music artists over a number of years at one of the world’s most influential taste-maker events – under the Sounds Australia moniker this provided dozens of bands and music businesses opportunities they would not otherwise have had, ultimately worth millions in export dollars.  I still hear new stories about specific outcomes from this, fifteen years later.

Secondly, it underpinned an international branding exercise that led to our own conference in Perth becoming a destination of choice for international industry to present at.  For the local industry in WA, this led to many opportunities that our constituents would never have even considered let alone chased.  And again, I know that the outcomes went way beyond what I’ve ever heard about.

These opportunities didn’t fall in my lap.  I chased them deliberately and strategically as I believed it would contribute to us achieving our purpose. 

If you can see similar benefits for you and your cause, then its time to speak up!