Whatever they're referred to in your industry, events are as critical to said industry as they are to your professional development. This is certainly no secret in the web design field, where there's a conference happening every time you look up at your screen. The product of this event proliferation appears to be an increasingly educated workforce and healthier dialogue within the community.
Suffice to say, the most apparent reason to attend an industry event is to learn. What's new? What's next? It's an easy sell for an employee to an employer: "Hey boss, can I attend BurgerConf in Austin, TX? I really want to learn how to make better burgers for our company." In this scenario, the boss is inclined to fund this learning experience because of the potential return-on-investment.
There are situations, however, when convincing your boss to send you to an event takes more rationale than "I'm going to learn things." Having attended, spoken at, and organized events, I feel qualified to suggest some of the lesser-known benefits of going to conferences:
I loathe the terms "networking" and "connecting". I'm not even sure why, but something about them makes my skin crawl. I think it has something to do with the picture in my head of people in suits holding briefcases, shaking hands, exchanging business cards and LinkedIn endorsements.
The fact of the matter is, being in the company of people who do what you do is a good thing. A real good thing, no matter what you call it. Chances are that you are one of only a handful of people who "do what you do" at your company. Being surrounded by those who face similar challenges and can offer a diverse amount of approaches can help stock your arsenal. Even in the scenario where you work with many fellow "do what you do"-ers, a change in perspective can be incredibly healthy.
Recharge Your Batteries
Almost without fail, the first-Monday-back from a conference is ripe for infusing your team with what you learned. Industry events have a knack for re-energizing people in a way a simple day off or even a vacation can't.
If I had to guess, this phenomenon stems from feeling like you've grown closer to your craft. You've "leveled up," so to speak. You're fresh with ideas and feeling confident that you can make a positive change where you are. You've potentially learned new, valuable skills that can make a significant impact on your company. You've never been more eager to get to work, and your job could use a fresh, amplified version of "you" every now and then.
Breaking the Status Quo
It's been said that the worst phrase you can say, or hear, at your company is "we've always done things this way". It's easy to become stagnant when you're not being influenced by others’ perspectives in an industry.
Conferences offer a unique opportunity to size up "how we're doing things" and "how others are doing things." Maybe change is necessary. Maybe you've instituted a new way that can be validated by a speaker or attendee's perspective. Hearing first-hand any number of different approaches than the one you're using can kickstart process and workflow conversations that normally wouldn't occur otherwise.
You've likely heard your boss say something about the value of driven people in your company. These are the people who are highlighted in inter-office emails and meetings. And while your bar for "how do I know if I'm doing good at work" may be higher or completely different than these instances, the common thread with varying degrees is initiative.
You know what takes initiative? Simply attending a conference. No, it's even simpler than that: just *wanting* to attend a conference. That says to your employer and your coworkers that you want to get better at what you do, and coincidentally, you want *everyone* to get better at what you're making together. It puts everyone on notice that there's room to grow, and that you're willing to figure out how your contribution can be better.
Not all industries work the same, and certainly there are factors that we haven't covered here, like cost, location, days away from the office, etc. There's also that thing about being in a room of strangers that can be uncomfortable. So yeah, there are a lot of reasons *not* to attend conferences, and those have been well documented. But staying up to date and having the willingness to investigate improving your own personal craft can be critical to your job performance. Taking advantage of industry events seems like a no-brainer to me.