How to Overcome Conference Challenges

‘Tis that time of year again, my friends…the ATD International Conference & Expo (some call it “ICE”) is coming up soon (less than 2 weeks away as I write this!), and I am simply giddy with excitement. I’m not ashamed to admit that one reason I’m giddy is because this year’s conference is in San Diego…here in Indiana, we can’t seem to kick the winter doom-and-gloom to the curb, so the delicious SoCal sun is beckoning! I’m also giddy because every year, this conference exceeds my expectations. The speakers and sessions are terrific, and I get to spend a few days learning and geeking out with some really awesome, smart, creative people.

(Lucky me!)

Top-notch events like ICE also make me reminisce about some of the not-so-excellent conferences I’ve attended over the years. Sometimes, the content missed the mark or the speakers were sub-par. Other times, logistical issues have plagued the entire event. Occasionally, I’ve simply felt out of place or disengaged for one reason or another. Fortunately, in my experience, the “hits” far outweigh the “misses.”

So what do you do if you attend a conference, and it’s a dud? You make some lemonade out of those plastic conference buffet centerpiece lemons! Here are a few tips:

If the sessions are irrelevant, boring or otherwise underwhelming:

  • Have a backup plan. When there are multiple breakout sessions in each timeslot, I try to mark more than one that seems to be of interest. After a few minutes, if a session is not meeting my expectations or is shaping up to be different than the description indicated, I quietly slip out and make my way to my backup choice. For big conferences like ICE, it’s important to map out a game plan in advance – there are dozens of sessions from which to choose in every time slot. So a little preparation can help you with this!
  • Chat it up. Take an opportunity before the session begins, during a small group discussion segment or as the session wraps up, to say hello to someone new. Ask why they chose that session….even if the content being delivered isn’t the greatest, perhaps you’ll make a connection with someone who wants to learn the same thing and you can discuss it on your own terms.

 

If you’re an introvert and you don’t enjoy “mingling” during networking events or cocktail receptions:

  • Quality over quantity. Personally, I’d much rather have 2-3 meaningful conversations than blitzing around a room swapping business cards all night. Seek out a familiar face (or find someone who looks equally uncomfortable!) and say hello. If you’re not a master at small talk, prepare yourself with a couple of safe, open-ended questions to get a conversation started.
  • Continue a conversation from earlier. Did you start a conversation with someone earlier in the day, only to be interrupted by the next scheduled session? Wrap up by asking the person, “I’d love to learn more about that project (or whatever). Will you be at the cocktail reception later?” — then make sure to seek him/her out!

 

If you find yourself disengaged during keynotes or general sessions:

  • Viva la hashtag. Sometimes, the best conference a-ha moments aren’t delivered by a speaker at all. Follow the event hashtag on Twitter to discover fascinating people and learn interesting facts, quotes and insights. Share your own thoughts and retweet your favorites to fuel the conversation!
  • Seek out ONE USEFUL NUGGET to apply in your role/life. Even when I haven’t been completely engaged in the session itself, I make an effort to find something that I can apply somehow. Maybe it’s taking the topic back to my team to get their opinion and start a discussion. Perhaps I just really like the presenter’s slide deck design and want to try their technique. Maybe the presenter’s viewpoint is the polar opposite of my own, and I get a little fired up…don’t get me started about the time a keynote (and well-respected industry leader) was bashing on 70:20:10, and I was presenting a breakout session later that day on leveraging 70:20:10 in onboarding to engage new employees. No, he didn’t realize that, and it certainly wasn’t intentional. But man…awkward.

 

Bottom line: Even the “meh” conferences can be salvaged. At the core, all conferences are wonderful opportunities to connect with like-minded colleagues, so take advantage of these chances to learn, share and grow with others! Like most things, we reap what we sow. If you go into the event thinking it will be miserable, you will be miserable. If you look for opportunities to make the most of it, you certainly will.

Your turn: What are your strategies for making the most out of conferences? Share a comment below – your advice can help your fellow conference-goers, rookies and seasoned attendees alike!

Fortunately, ICE is sure to be a killer event. Will I see you there? Drop me a note, connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn so we can catch up!

 


 

Looking for a few other conference-related posts? Check out these oldies-but-goodies!

3 Ways to Have a Really Bad Time at a Conference

How to Combat Inspiration Overload After a Conference

 

 

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Interesting Things I Learned from DevLearn 2014

good-ideas-spread

Last week, there was a pretty large Learning Technology conference taking place in fabulous Las Vegas – DevLearn, hosted by eLearning Guild. Were you there?

I took away some good nuggets of information from this conference…I’m summarizing three of those nuggets, courtesy of some interesting people I know through Twitter:

 

1. Agile project management/development – Many Learning professionals are ditching traditional content development and project management methods in favor of Agile. I’ve been reading a lot about this lately, so I thought this post was an interesting, easy-to-implement strategy based on Agile methodology:

devlearn-tweet-1

 

 

2. Work smarter, not harder – A great part about conferences is walking away with poignant, shareable words of wisdom from passionate, like-minded professionals. This one resonated with me…why do we make things more complicated than they need to be?

devlearn-tweet-2

 

 

3. Naturally, the humor – First of all, can I get an amen for this particular slide?  When you get a group of L&D geeks in a room (brick-and-mortar or virtual), there will be war stories. There will be a splash of snark. There will be jokes. And, in Devlearn’s case, a breakout session with content created entirely from memes. (nicely done, @LnDDave – and thanks to @tracy_parish for sharing the tweet)

devlearn-tweet-3

 

 

So, here’s a little confession: I wasn’t there. You read that correctly – I did not attend DevLearn. Yet I feel like I learned several things. How? It’s all about the backchannel, baby. I saved the #devlearn hashtag as a stream in Hootsuite so I could follow along throughout the conference. I actually felt like I attended sessions along with a number of good people who faithfully tweeted interesting points throughout the conference. So, to all of you who contributed to the DevLearn Twitter stream, I thank you for providing such interesting commentary! (Bonus: Since I wasn’t in Vegas for the conference, I didn’t lose any money at the roulette table!)

I’ve mentioned before that people in our industry are often like the “cobbler’s children who have no shoes” when it comes to professional development. We spend our days creating an environment for others in our organizations to learn, collaborate and grow….but when it comes down to brass tacks, we sometimes neglect our own interests and development goals. Following an event’s Twitter stream (“backchannel”) or joining a Twitter chat can be a wonderful (not to mention, free) way to reap many of the benefits of networking and social collaboration, without the travel expense or time away from the office.

If you’re unable to attend a conference or event, check out their website – you will often see the official event hashtag prominently posted. Follow it – it’s the next best thing to being there!

For regular interaction, Twitter chats are a great way to connect with others. Here are a few active chats for Learning and Talent Development professionals to check out:

#lrnchat

#chat2lrn

#tchat

 

Your turn: What is your take on event hashtags? Do you follow/contribute to the backchannel at conferences? Use the comments to share your thoughts!

 

Would your network enjoy this post? Be kind and share it!

 

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How to Combat “Inspiration Overload” After a Conference

information overload

Fun fact about yours truly: I have the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors for my local chapter of the Association for Talent Development (ATD – formerly ASTD). Last week, I was able to attend the organization’s annual Chapter Leaders Conference (ALC), where I was also able to present a session. The conference, in a word, was fantastic. Our team walked away with so many ideas and plans to grow and progress our chapter…so many ideas, in fact, that it’s a bit overwhelming now that I’ve been back home for a few days.

Have you ever been to a conference, workshop or other event like that?

How do you harness that positive energy when you return to the hustle-bustle of the routines and responsibilities in the real world?

Well, here are three strategies to try:

1. Follow the backchannel.

Most conferences and events have a dedicated hashtag to categorize tweets and tweeters. This is a valuable resource to not only engage in the online conversation that is running in tandem throughout the live event, but you can favorite, retweet and curate your favorite ideas and resources to review and access afterward.

2. Connect with attendees.

Nowadays, it’s not just about collecting business cards to stuff in your Rolodex and forget about. Use the business cards to connect with like-minded people, session presenters and other interesting people via LinkedIn, Twitter, email and other channels. Follow up with questions. Continue conversations. Share resources. Hop on a Skype call to share ideas over a cup of coffee. If you’re lucky enough to be geographically close, actually meet up in person for that cup of coffee!

3. Put your notes and ideas in an obvious, accessible place.

For me, it’s my Moleskine notebook. If it’s in my notebook, then it goes with me just about everywhere. For you, whether it’s a Moleskine or Evernote (or whatever your notetaking tool/app of choice might be), use it when inspiration strikes. Make a to-do list with your action items – I typically don’t take a lot of notes in the conference-provided booklet/agenda, because I don’t always have that handy after the event. If it’s something I want to explore post-conference, I need to put it in a place I know I’ll look at it.

Several months ago, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post about how to have a bad time at a conference. After last week’s ATD event, I can say the same ideas hold true. You get what you put into it, folks. If you are fortunate enough to be able to attend conferences – even every once in awhile – then take advantage of the opportunity to learn, grow professionally and connect with others in your industry. What a privilege that is!

Your turn: How do you get the most out of conferences and workshops? How do you apply what you’ve learned (and keep the inspiration alive!) after the event? Share your ideas in the comments below!

 

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#OneSimpleThing – Who Ya Gonna Call?

#OneSimpleThing - Who Ya Gonna Call

(Admit it, you’ve got the song running through your head now, don’t you? #SorryNotSorry)

Happy Monday! Here is the second installment of the #OneSimpleThing series. In case you missed last week’s post, the purpose of this series is to spark creativity, kickstart new ideas, overcome burnout and focus on your own development. Whether you’re a trainer/facilitator, an instructional designer, HR professional, manager or in an entirely different field, I hope you find value!

This week’s focus: From whom can you learn something?

There is always a part of our role, company or industry that is a bit of a mystery. Maybe you just haven’t had much exposure to a certain part of your business. Maybe you’re curious about how another department operates, or how you can partner cross-functionally. Maybe you want to break down those dreaded silos. Maybe you’d like to get acquainted with your company’s CEO. Maybe there’s an industry leader in your area whose brain you’d love to pick.

The point?

We all know someone who knows something we’d like to learn more about. 

So, reach out! What’s stopping you? I promise, it’s not as tough as asking your 6th grade crush to the Valentine dance. Unless the person you have in mind is a total jerk, the chances are good that s/he will oblige your request to meet for coffee, lunch or just to sit down at the office to chat one day. Advice? People are busy (I’m sure you are too!), so be patient and mindful of others’ schedules. More advice? Pick up the check. Money well spent, I promise.

Through casual breakfasts, lunches, coffee runs and other meetups, I’ve become acquainted with some pretty incredible people. Some I’ve initiated, others have been requested by others. Regardless of who reached out first, I always walk away with a renewed energy for what I do. An idea that I want to implement or a topic I want to write about. I learn something. And the best part? I’m building stronger relationships with awesome people.

So your #OneSimpleThing challenge this week is to reach out to someone you know (or know from afar) who you could help you learn something. Ask that person to meet up sometime in the next few weeks.

 

Your turn: After you reach out to someone, check in by posting in the comments below. Who did you contact? What are you hoping to learn? And after you met with the person, how did it go?

 

Be kind – please share this post with your friends and followers!

 

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