Justifying Attendance

How to help demonstrate the value of going to an event

Sample Justification Letters
Peruse these samples for ideas to incorporate into your justification letter or toolkit.
• ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership, bit.ly/17bNOgL
• EMS Today, bit.ly/GIK0gO
• Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology, bit.ly/1bQyBG3
• International Spectrum, bit.ly/199D4De
• Meeting Professionals International, bit.ly/18YbzfV
• National Association of the Deaf Government Employee Training, bit.ly/16tmaPy
• World Conference on Disaster Management, bit.ly/1gjQaRL
• zSpace Developers Conference East, bit.ly/1fUQpFe

From recession to sequester, AEG to IRS, the past five years or so have been filled with much that strikes fear into the heart of planners. Any time meetings end up portrayed negatively in the media, or the economy tanks, attendees have more difficulty convincing their bosses that traveling to a conference is worth the money and time.

To help potential attendees get that coveted approval, hosts like Dallas-based Meeting Professionals International and the organizers of EMS Today provide justification letters and kits to ease the way.

"As conference organizers, it's important to think about these things -- what the process is that our attendees need to go through and how we can help them," says Debbie Murray, a conference director for the La Jolla, Calif., office of Pennwell, a publishing company and event producer that owns EMS Today, an annual conference and exhibition that typically welcomes more than 4,000 people who work in pre-hospital emergency medical services.

Here's a deeper look at justification materials.

Preparing the argument
Since the economic free fall of 2008, providing justification help has become standard practice for most organizations. "We've been offering our letter for years, because our attendees' budgets are so tight," says Murray.

Typically, those attending EMS Today belong to municipal organizations, such as city fire departments, volunteer organizations, hospital agencies or stand-alone paid services. When money is cut, training often is the first thing to go, even though emergency-services providers have to recertify every two years.

EMS Today's justification letter (bit.ly/GIK0gO) touts the many benefits of attending, including the following.

• A new and up-to-the-minute education track called Tomorrow's Health-Care System focuses on how emergency medical services fit in with the changing landscape and the current drive toward community health care.

• Attendees will access a packed trade show floor. More than 275 exhibitors bring samples of the latest technology, products and services.

• Other educational sessions and networking opportunities abound. Classes offer credits toward recertification, while social events allow attendees to gain insight from international peers facing similar challenges.

• Aside from a reasonable room rate negotiated by EMS Today, attendees also receive local discounts and a year's subscription to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, and organizations that send five or more members get a group discount.

See to "Sample Justification Letters," above, for links to some representative documents that can help you determine what might (or might not) work for your attendees.

Helping yourself
Perhaps you're trying to get buy-in from your own boss to attend one of the many meetings industry events held throughout the year. Look for justification information before making your arguments.

MPI offered a comprehensive toolkit (found at bit.ly/18YbzfV) to support people who wanted to attend the 2013 World Education Congress, held last July in Las Vegas. The kit, in separate versions for planners and suppliers, provided a sample justification letter, a worksheet to determine expenses associated with the event and a list of benefits made possible by attending. The association will offer a similar toolkit for the July 2014 event in Minneapolis.

In making your case, offer to follow up with a report to your team on what you learned, a rundown on the people you met, and descriptions of the products and destinations that impressed you. Remind your supervisor if you will be earning credits toward earning or recertifying for the Certified Meeting Professional or other industry designation.

A well-prepared and professional request will go a long way toward winning your boss' OK.