Letter from the President - November 2018

When I was a young engineer fresh out of school, I watched my colleagues go off to attend professional development events and conferences. I was a bit envious, but I figured my turn would come eventually.

Then, in just my second year of work, I heard about Autodesk University. I knew immediately that I wanted to go... but how? No one at my office had ever been before. I was pretty sure they’d never even heard of it. What could I do to convince my boss to give it a shot?

True confession time: I called my mother. (Hey, I was really young! Plus, my mom is super smart.) Following her advice, I was able to write an email that persuaded my boss that the conference would be worth my time—and the office’s funding. Since then, I’ve used a version of that email to get approval to attend many events, and I’ve been able to share it with my colleagues to help them launch their own professional development efforts. And today, I’m going to share it with you.

I like to write my conference pitches by answering the six core questions of journalism: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How (and its companion How Much). Your manager will need information from you to decide whether to send you—giving her all the facts up front will make the decision process that much easier.

Answering a few of these questions is practically trivial: When and where is the conference, who would be going, and how much will it cost? (Remember to include that last one, counting time out of the office and travel time and expense. Otherwise it’ll be the first thing you’ll be asked.)

Describing what the event is requires a little more attention. If your boss is probably already familiar with it, don’t bother with too much detail. If it’s new to your firm, you’ll want to include more information. Most conference websites have a summary page that you can get text from. Be sure to attribute any quotes (“According to their website, Conference X is...”) so that the more formal language doesn’t sound out of place. Or paraphrase it so it’s in your own voice.

A lot of things can fall under the answer to how. They could be as simple as travel logistics. (Do you need a hotel?) You might want to address where the event falls on the office calendar. (How will you manage deadlines?) You could also reassure your boss about the smooth running of the office in your absence. (Will you take a computer? Will a colleague cover for you?) Try to anticipate what resistance you might get, and provide solutions up front.

Most of the space in your pitch will be dedicated to why you should go to this conference. Will you get technical or practical information? Will it be more about networking opportunities or “thought leadership”? Will the information you get be useful to your colleagues as well—and if so, what’s your plan for sharing it with them when you get back? (Honestly, if the answer to more
than one these questions is “no,” maybe you should rethink whether it’s actually worth attending.)

Be specific here. If the session list is already published, pick a few of your favorite classes or speakers and include their title and description. Since networking is also a key part of the conference experience, try to include the names of clients (or competitors!) that will also be in attendance.

I don’t have room to put an entire sample letter here... but fortunately, the AU folks have written one for you! Head to for a template and a cost calculator. You’ll probably want to tweak the language to make it sound more like you, but it’s a great start.

Looking for a shortcut to conference approval? Be a speaker! If your firm is as dedicated as mine is to sharing knowledge with our fellow industry professionals, one of the best ways to get funding to an event is to present a paper or class. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really rewarding.

Good luck with your conference pitches, and I hope to see you at an event soon!

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