Cost Effective Training and Networking by Phelim Rowe

Outlining the problem

Service personnel who have recently left the forces or the police are at risk of making rash decisions when it comes to future training and development in part because they are exposed to a new world of private sector marketing jargon, unusual or unrecognised training formats and a host of possibilities.

In the UK and in some cases the US armed forces and police personnel who leave the services are entitled to a lump sum paid at the time they leave but often well ahead of their pension. They have so much more to contribute to society, so many specialist and transferable skills that often gravitate their new careers towards private security in both the physical and logical spheres.

Whilst some might pursue a more straight forward path direct into a corporate or private security job others struggle or take their time to transition and will start to consider courses, networking events, conferences and exhibitions to attend to reskill and network. I cannot comment about whether one evasive manoeuvring driving course is better than another or whether you really need extra letters after your name. Where I can add value to their decision making process in the conference, exhibition and networking arena.

Cost Effective Training and Networking

It is not completely true when some people declare that all content in conferences can be found online. Context matters and the curation of various topics is key to your understanding. That is, in part what you are paying for.

Associations (or events recommended by associations) are a fantastic and cost effective place to start, like ASIS and all those within the UK Security Commonwealth, BBA or IT-ISAC, IP-SB etc. There are other entities which I will not name, which purport to be associations or ‘institutes’ but are completely commercial and only use the term to hide their true nature.  That matters because whilst profit is wholly necessary to run events, would you go to a security conference run by someone who was working on the ‘Mother and Baby’ show yesterday and will be working on ‘Flowers and Gifts’ tomorrow? The amount of infrastructure they need to keep going including assistants, operations, buildings, loans, salaries necessitates that for the same quality event you end up paying far more.

Niche conferences on specific topics will be your other best and cost effective bet regardless of who runs them. If you went to an event on ‘security’ how much new information would you hope to glean? But what if you went to an event on ‘transitioning from the armed forces into the private security sector’ or ‘applying yourself to cyber security as a physical security specialist’? Those are much more suitable and will most times cost between £100 and £400. If you ask a conference organiser what their event is about and they said ‘stuff’ you wouldn’t be much impressed. Go specific.

High cost conferences (£1k +) are not suitable for the newly departed service person unless they have already set up their own business unless they know exactly which potential customers are going to be at the event. Otherwise they will have entered a business development trap designed for corporate delegates who have a yearly and large attendance budget. There are real case studies I can think of regarding high profile cyber security events in the United States and UK where former service personnel have parted with £4k per ticket just to be part of that event and tell their network (even though the events turned out to not be suitable anyway).

Networking events are often either free or for a sum of about £50-150 can be added on to someone else’s conference – and you don’t have to buy the conference ticket. If networking is what you are looking for then this will give you a lot more leverage and get your face out there.

Check List: What to Look for Conferences, Exhibitions, Networking Events in the Security Sector

This may not apply to associations led by volunteers (I have already said trust them more) but here are some (not an exhaustive list) bullet point tips to identify quality in events from their website or over the phone:

  • Has the company produced other security or defence events?
  • Are the ‘benefits of attending’ on promotional literature taken from a stock catalogue like ‘benchmarking with your peers’ or ‘8 hours of content’?
  • Do they promise the ‘whole industry’? There are very few events which could achieve this.
  • Do they promise exactly the item you ask for each time you mention it no matter what you say? They are probably spin selling.
  • Will the company take a call in the first place to explain the benefits of attending?
  • If they do, do they know the benefits of attending their own event?
  • Are there grammatical errors or strange turns of phrase on the website? This matters because if they do not pay attention to their marketing or have non native speakers write the marketing copy for an event in the UK or US they are cutting corners.
  • Will they offer a dramatic discount at the drop of a hat – if so, why?
  • Do they have the previous year’s agenda to show you?
  • Are their ‘confirmed speakers’ online six months or more before the event? If so, will they still be confirmed by the time the event comes around or have they used last year’s speakers and replaced the date?
  • On the phone does the representative know what you do and why the event is a match beyond ‘learning and development’?
  • If you are attending an exhibition for free you are probably going to benefit far more just sticking with that than spending 1k+ on the conference. Are there any free conferences at the same event (yes this happens, three free great conferences and one for 1k at the same expo).
  • Trust your gut. If the expo or conference does not know whether it is a H&S show or a security show or a construction show it may not be targeted to you.


Over the last decade I have produced and run approximately 130 conferences in the security and defence sectors and I have attended countless workshops, exhibitions and networking events. What is immediately apparent to me but often not for new professionals on the learning and development scene is that there are a lot of business people who reckon they’ll ‘have a crack at security’ because it looked lucrative after they turned on the TV one day and saw a news report. The security sector is more important than others for society and so I want to help guide professionals.

There is much more to say, also on personal branding at events. These initial tips are designed to stop the newly departed service person from wasting their precious and limited resources. The intricacies of security and defence events behind the scenes might sound boring or unnecessary to know but the future development of such committed professionals is not a joke.

About the author:

Phelim Rowe is a Conference Director with experience in both the public and private sectors. He has organised conferences in the US, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America on a variety of topics. Prior to conferencing he held Policy Advisor positions for Town Planning in the UK Department of Communities and Local Government and Trade, Defence Promotion and Ministerial Private Office in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills