How do you get the most out of your conference experience?

FocusOn

This week I’m headed to Austin, TX, to participate in the eLearning Guild’s FocusOn Learning conference. Attending any conference can be a significant investment – either for your organization or, if you’re footing your own bill for professional development opportunities, then it’s a significant investment for yourself.

For example: without any discounts, the FocusOn conference registration is $1,695. Add a couple hundred dollars for the hotel, a couple hundred more dollars for airfare, some more money for meals, local transportation and other expenses, and this could easily run several thousand dollars. That’s before you factor in the cost of your own time.

What’s the best way to ensure there’s some sort of return on this investment? You could simply go with a general idea of what you’re hoping to get out of the conference. Maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for (in general). Maybe not.

One thing I like to do prior to attending a conference is to set “MPV goals”. It stands for “Minimum”, “Primary” and “Visionary” goals. I find that when I set these goals, I’m more focused heading into the conference, and I can easily determine whether the conference was a success for me (and/or whether I’d choose to return to this same conference in the future).

Next week, I’ve set the following goals for myself:

Minimum:

  1. Find five new people to follow on Twitter. Twitter is a place I go to learn about a variety of perspectives from across the L&D field. I’m always looking for new, quality people to follow.
  2. Meet at least three people in-person who I’ve previously only met online. Social media is a great way to expand my network, but at some point, a personal connection – whether over coffee or dinner or just a quick chat in the exhibition hall – can serve to cement those relationships.

Primary:

  1. Identify at least three performance support strategies and/or technologies to integrate into my work. While mobile learning has never been a big part of my organization’s learning strategy, it’s come up in recent conversations, so it’s time to take it more seriously. I want to have at least three potential ideas to bring back to my team and discuss their feasibility when I return to the office.
  2. Have a draft completed for my Online Learning Conference presentation. By a stroke of luck, my co-presenter (Mike Taylor) for a presentation I have coming up in September will also be attending next week’s conference. This goal will also help me meet one of my minimum goals – even though Mike and I submitted a proposal (and had it accepted) to present at a conference this coming September, we’ve never actually met in person!

Visionary:

  1. Find a new project. If my first “Primary” goal comes to fruition, I could well be on my way in creating a new project for myself around a new strategy or implementing a new technology. This could be where the investment in my attending this conference would really pay off  – through increased efficiencies, reduced training costs and/or expanding the number of people our L&D initiatives are able to reach.
  2. See some bats. All work and no play makes for a very myopic conference experience. Apparently, one of Austin’s big tourist attractions is the Congress Avenue Bridge, where 1.5 million bats take flight nightly around sunset. When I attended this conference last year, I took a walk one evening and saw no bats. Maybe it’ll happen for me this year.

It’s one thing to set goals, it’s another thing to hold oneself accountable.Next Monday, I’ll write a follow-up post that offers an update on how I did toward meeting these goals.

How do you get the most out of your conference experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts and practices in the comment section.

6 thoughts on “How do you get the most out of your conference experience?

  1. Don’t be afraid to walk out of a session if it is not meeting your needs (or the presenter is awful) and find another session! There are usually so many sessions to choose from that it is a good idea to cut your losses early and find another session. Sometimes the title and description can be misleading. As a presenter myself, I never take it personally if folks scoot out.

    • Yes! I agree with needing to feel free to walk out… Although as a presenter, I make a mental note of people who walk out on my presentation and will give them the stink eye if I see them throughout the rest of the conference.

  2. As someone who has only attended 2 conferences – this is a helpful rubric to evaluate future conferences I may attend. The ATD New England conference I attended in April definitely met your criteria – but I’ll have to make my own.

    Also – some coworkers headed to Austin about a month ago… and they saw the bats (or at least all 6 of them are telling the same story, lol). So, better luck next time!

    • Thanks Beth. I used to attend conferences without much focus – if something was useful, that was nice, but I never had much intention. The MPV concept helped me put some structure and intention behind my conference attendance.

      As for the bats… Someone posted a pic of the bats on the conference app on the last day… It was a pic that person had taken of a mural at the airport! Apparently this time of year is when the female bats are gestating and not as active. Or at least that was the rumor someone started…

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