Lessons that this week’s DevLearn attendees can take away from a disastrous election night party

My birthday is in early November and every four years we host a birthday/election night party at our house. It was a lot of fun in 2008 and 2012. This year? Worst. Party. Ever. Perhaps the worst party in the history of humankind.


For my birthday this year, life gave me lemons. What follows is my attempt at lemonade.  

As I reflected on the evening, I thought about a number of parallels between things that happened at my party and things that happen at an industry conference. If you’re headed to DevLearn this week, here are five things you might be able to take away from my birthday party experience from last week:

  1. Even poor content can still educate. Watching the election returns roll in, I certainly wasn’t getting the results I wanted to see. At the same time, sitting on the floor in front of the tv was my daughter and a classmate, taking notes and coloring in states red or blue as a part of their homework. They were still learning. The same can happen in a session that is poorly presented (ahem, presenters who lecture and rely too much on PowerPoint). Even though the content may not be exactly what you want, and even though some presenters may not fully embrace sound adult learning principles, there may still be something to learn in a session you’re attending. Try not to let poor presentation skills or content that wasn’t quite what you were expecting get in the way of your opportunity to learn something new.
  2. Pay attention to social media. As I desperately scoured other news websites as well as social media, I knew Tuesday night was going to end poorly when I noticed that someone’s Facebook status was: So-and-so is watching Gilmore Girls. People had begun to accept their fate and had begun to change the channel in order to find a happier place. When it comes to conferences, sometimes the best tips come through the conference’s Twitter hashtag or the conference app. If you’re five minutes into a session and it’s not meeting your expectations, take a quick peek at the app or the Twitter feed and see if other people are posting photos or raving about a different session.
  3. Don’t buy into bad data. I can’t tell you how many people looked on with horror on Tuesday evening as the New York Times election tracker dropped the odds of Hillary Clinton’s victory from 85% to 55% to below 5%. One of our party attendees (who works at Microsoft) tried to give us hope by telling us that Bing was predicting an 85% chance of a Clinton victory even after Florida and North Carolina were called for Trump. Don’t let your presenters this week get away with flashing impressive looking stats across their PowerPoint decks without understanding a little more about the source or the methodology. Are the stats you’re seeing in your presentations based upon real studies, or are they coming from voluntary surveys that have little scientific rigor?
  4. Talk to strangers. One of my former co-workers who is currently in the market for a new job happened to bump into my brother-in-law at the party and my brother-in-law told him about a job that’s open and that fits his skill set right now. Another friend who works at Amazon.com also had some job leads. Whether you’re looking for your own job leads or just looking to learn how other people are taking on challenges to things you may also be facing, one of the most valuable aspects of a conference experience is the opportunity to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to meet. Talk to people at lunchtime, talk to some vendors with some cool products in the exhibit hall, talk to some of the participants in the DemoFest, exchange business cards with a presenter who really impressed you. And then follow-up with them after the conference.
  5. Drinking can make it better. On Tuesday night, where was the merit in being sober? As for transferable lessons for folks attending DevLearn in Vegas… you’re in Vegas. Have fun.

Are you in Las Vegas for DevLearn this week? I’d love to hear how the conference is going – be sure to drop a line in the comment section!


6 thoughts on “Lessons that this week’s DevLearn attendees can take away from a disastrous election night party

    • My pleasure Safiyah. As Scott mentioned in the previous comment, there are definitely transferable lessons all around us. Social media can be an extremely helpful tool (although it can certainly also be overused and/or used for not-so-great purposes, too). As for data, it’s always helpful to make sure there’s a credible source behind it – these days it’s too easy to throw together an infographic or pull some non-scientific survey data together and draw some very wrong conclusions.

  1. Well done Brian. I recognize and hear Lisa’s retort, and I validate your response to the election while also searching for meaning in the L&D world. We have to recognize that people are in various stages of the grief cycle and that these public spaces are places for us to process how we are feeling and also to listen and read how others may also be feeling. I hope that we can do more listening in the coming year than yelling and speaking.

    Also, L&D insights are all around us much like the force. Midi-chlorians. “When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them talking to you.”

  2. Normally I enjoy your blog. I read and save every one of them to refer to later. However, this one I didn’t enjoy and I feel I must comment on.

    It seemed that you were trying to talk politics (not appropriate in a training blog) and somehow squeeze something about Training in however you could. You didn’t think that not everyone thought the election (or election night) was “disastrous”. Some people that read your blog might think that election night was wonderful. And what your take on the election has to do with training is beyond me. I know you tried to tie them together, but it didn’t work.

    Also, the last bullet point, where you say, “Drinking can make it better” is totally inappropriate anywhere. Some people who read your blog are not drinkers, may have religious issues with drinking or have problems with alcohol. To say, “drinking can make it better” and “On Tuesday night, where was the merit in being sober?” is appalling to me. Drinking does not make ANYTHING better, ever.

    While I understand that this is your blog and you are entitled to put whatever you want here, you should stay within the bounds of Training and Instructional Design. Fun is fun, but telling people that drinking makes things better and that you are upset with the election results (haven’t we heard that ENOUGH in the past couple of days) is beyond what I expect out of a professional blog.

    Just my opinion, yours may vary. Happy belated birthday.

    • Thanks Lisa. I love your passion.

      Legend has it that Michael Jordan was reluctant to share his political thoughts in public, saying “Republicans buy sneakers too.” There’s some question about whether he actually said it, but if he did, it’s one (of several) ways that I suppose I’m different from MJ.

      You’re right, this isn’t a political blog, and at the same time I feel quite strongly that L&D professionals take observations and inspiration from everything in the world around us and find transferable ways to apply them to our craft. This is where most of the inspiration for this blog comes from – whether that’s something that one of my children has done, something I saw on TV or yes, even politics.

      So, there indeed are four transferable lessons here (even if you disagree with the content). As for the drinking comment, you’re probably right – I know several good people who don’t drink. Turning back to my advice for the DevLearn crowd: If you’ve sat through a day full of presentations that didn’t live up to your expectations, ice cream can also make things better.

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