Professional development opportunities are the fitness classes of the business world.  We all know we need them, but when the business day gets going, there are a hundred different reasons why the latest email to arrive in your inbox is more important than attending an optional class on marketing or financial management.

This is on my mind for two reasons:  first, I am trying to do a fitness challenge at one of our fabulous local wellness studios.  Squeezing in exercise class into my overwrought schedule is so much harder than giving up wine, cheese and pasta.

Second, we are planning the Chamber’s activities for 2018.  We hear over and over from members that they are interested in professional development.  Therefore, we work hard to deliver quality programming each year.

But then people don’t attend.  Or at least not in the numbers we expect.  

There are lots of variables.  Are we holding sessions at a convenient time and location?  Will there be food?  Is the topic engaging?  Who is speaking?  Are we clear about what the class will do for the attendee?  Is the program well-marketed?

After a few years of trial and error, we’ve learned that topics matter most.  To that end, we have a survey on our website (, look under the “News” menu) asking members to weigh in on what interests them.  We would appreciate if you would add your two cents.

We also learned that people really are pressed for time.  Making a video of the class and posting it online has been a huge success, allowing us to reach members who cannot attend in person.  We’ll do more of that in the future.

Finally, we learned that members are more likely to attend sessions tailored to their specific needs.  We get better attendance at professional development sessions in our smaller Women in Business and Young Professionals groups than we do when we offer topics geared toward general membership.

We will be taking all of this into account as we prepare for 2018.  In the meantime, we would love to hear from you as to what kind of professional development most interests you.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...