Arguably the primary benefit of industry conferences is the opportunity they provide to share knowledge, experiences, and new technologies in a forum where all contributors can be regarded as equal (maybe with the exception of keynote speakers). The free and open exchange of ideas such events allow cannot be reproduced easily in any other way, and benefits the speakers and the audience alike.
Secondary benefits of these events include the opportunity for networking and for taking a break from the usual workplace routine.
It is important for the conference planner to ensure that presentations are of an appropriate quality, and this is not an easy task. A technical review committee for the event’s program can be set up to review abstracts and advise on which will hopefully meet the program’s objectives. But the truth is that it is not until the paper is received and the presentation given that the choice of accepting each speaker will be seen as justified.
As well as the issue of the relevance of the subject to the theme of the conference, there is also the issue that many engineers in the pipeline industry are not used to making presentations in front of an unfamiliar audience, and it is not possible for the conference planner to provide the opportunity for rehearsal. When a speaker is eloquent and totally familiar with the subject, great benefit can accrue; the opposite is also true, and a poor speaker can both discourage attention to the presentation, and also turn the listeners away from the subject. In the worst case, a poor presentation will actively prejudice the presenter’s company’s commercial activities.
Despite these issues, there is also considerable personal benefit to the presenter (and his or her company or organisation) from taking part in a good quality conference. On an individual level, preparing a paper or presentation provides an opportunity for career development among younger engineers by virtue of the review process.
At present, there are few ways of publicly demonstrating competence in the pipeline industry. Preparing a technical presentation that will be reviewed by an independent group, and then an industry audience, is one of these. From a corporate viewpoint, a good presentation in front of an industry peer group has more value than almost any other type of advertising.
This is not to say that a conference presentation should be prepared from a promotional viewpoint: far from it. But a good technical presentation describing a new technology, or a solution to a problem, will give the company involved considerable credibility among the those in attendance.
The opposite is also true: a presentation that is overly commercial or otherwise misjudged can do actual harm to the commercial prospects of the company involved. It often appears that this aspect is overlooked when a company agrees that a member of its staff should give a presentation.
It cannot be stressed enough that this public face of the company is extremely important for its reputation. It may be that the company has on its staff the most brilliant and competent engineers; if their achievements are presented badly, it could do more harm than good.
There are two further benefits that result from taking part in an industry conference. The first of these is networking, and applies to all who attend, whether as a speaker or delegate. Individuals of all generations interact far better when face-to-face than via other, electronic, methods: it’s the human condition! From a networking point of view, there is an important role to be played by industry associations. In the pipeline industry, there are several long standing groups, including American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Pigging Products and Services Association, the Australian Pipelines and Gas Association; these have been joined, more recently, by Young Pipeliners Association of Canada and the Young Pipeline Professionals USA.
Each of these membership groups organises its own meetings which members – and sometimes non-members – can attend, providing valuable networking opportunities.
The third benefit of attending a conference is that the individual has time away from their usual workplace, which is not to be underrated. Although the pipeline industry is not renowned for holding events which otherwise might be visited on holiday, even a trip to Calgary, Houston, or Aberdeen can make a welcome break from an otherwise routine schedule. And, with the above in mind, I look forward to getting be best out of Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Management Conference (PPIM) when it returns to Houston, Texas next year. I hope that you will be able to do the same.