Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Next Conference

The learning and training industry is fully immersed in conference season right now! With Learning 2012 having just wrapped up, DevLearn coming up this week, and TK13 right around the corner, we thought it would be helpful to give you a few quick tips to get the most out of your next conference. Enjoy your conference, and be sure to come back here and share some of your conference tips!

1. Go With the Flow.

You should always go to a conference with a plan and objectives—even if the plan is to relax and enjoy yourself. But don’t get stuck with your plan. Be willing to go with the flow and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. If you stop for some coffee in the hallway and strike up a great conversation, it might be worthwhile to skip your next session to continue the dialog.

Learning 2012 had real-time sessions that weren’t planned or scheduled until after the conference began. I had every intention of going to a certain session and then saw there was a real-time session at the same time that also looked good. Luckily, Diane gave me this advice before I left for the conference. I went to the newly-scheduled session and was so glad that I did!

2. Find a Group Within the Group.

When you’re at a conference with 2,000 people, it can seem like a daunting task to go into sessions, lunches, and the expo without knowing anyone. If you look for a small group within the larger group, you may feel more comfortable and be able to navigate the conference with better results.

I had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of the “30 Under 30” group at Learning 2012 (#30u30), which was designed to highlight the next generation of learning leaders. Seeing familiar faces in the crowd really makes the conference seem smaller and more accessible, so find your network and jump right in! Plus, being a part of this group gave me access to some of the keynote speakers and upper-level learning leaders that I would not otherwise have had a chance to network with.

3. Walk Out if Something Doesn’t Meet Your Needs.

You’re at the conference to come away with something, and you are investing a lot of time and money to get it. So always be willing to walk out of a session that is not meeting your needs. Don’t let social convention cause you to sacrifice an entire session on something that isn’t going to help you.

I was told before Learning 2012 that, “If a session isn’t helpful in the first 15 minutes, it will NOT get any better.” Based on this advice, I chose to sit toward the back in an aisle seat. That way, I could walk out quietly without disturbing others in the session who were getting something good out of it.

4. Plug in to the Conference Backchannel.

Many conferences encourage using Twitter, LinkedIn, or their own conference app to share quotes, content, and opinions. Take advantage of these networking opportunities and learn what others are saying about the sessions and the conference.

During Learning 2012 (#lrn2012), I found that following the discussion let me know which sessions and speakers had a lot to offer and which ones to avoid. It’s also a great way to get notes and quotes from sessions you were unable to attend.

5. Look for Ways to Keep the Conversation Going.

Remember that more often than not, the people that you meet at the conference are much more valuable than any of the sessions that you attend. A session lasts for an hour, but a relationship can last for the rest of your career. Whether it is exchanging business cards, connecting on LinkedIn, or even creating your own group, be sure to find a way to stay connected with the people you meet.

I made what I’m sure will become life-long friends at Learning 2012. Because the 30 Under 30 group became very tight-knit, we created our own LinkedIn and Facebook groups to stay connected and make sure we don’t lose the momentum that was started at the conference.

6. Debrief and Share.

When you finish with a session, or even once you get home from the conference, debrief with your colleagues, family, and friends. Tell them what you learned, who you met, and what you got out of the conference. Chances are that while you’re sharing, you’ll remember things you had already forgotten.

It’s also extremely helpful to share your notes and recollections from sessions with others who attended the conference. I found that at Learning 2012, my other #30u30 cohort members went to the some of the same sessions I attended but came away with different thoughts and ideas. When you collaborate after the sessions, you may find that you’re getting more out of the sessions than you would on your own!

7. Leave Room in Your Bag When You Pack.

It may seem like a little thing, but when you’re packing for your conference, be sure to leave some extra room in your bags. While at the conference, you could collect any number of things. Colleagues and vendors are constantly handing out sales materials, you might decide to buy some books at the conference bookstore, or you might even win an iPad! If you leave extra room in your bags, you won’t get stuck with having to pay extra baggage fees or leaving your new belongings behind on your trip home.

Let us know if you have any other helpful tips you’d like to share.
Diane and Rod are at DevLearn this week, so come say hello!

Nick Elkins

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