Want to be better in your L&D craft? Get involved outside of your organization.

I have a lot of coffee – both in-person and virtual – with L&D professionals and there’s one question that always comes up: how did you get to where you are?

I can safely say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without getting involved in self-initiated professional development on projects and activities outside of my own organization. I can also say that too few other L&D professionals look beyond their own organizations to get involved, and therefore hone their craft.

Here are five ways I’ve gotten involved, and how I’ve benefited from these activities:

1. Teach a course.

Several years ago I was at a local ATD chapter meeting and I happened to sit next to someone who worked for the University of Washington. Soon after that meeting, I noticed she had posted an advertisement for instructors for a new training certificate program. That project exposed me to other instructors with other experiences and pushed me to create a program from the ground up.

Benefits: The experience helped me this year as I was asked to put together a 6-week online facilitator training course offered by Humentum. The fall edition of this course begins this week (if you’re interested in a facilitation skills course that is conducted completely online, come join us!).

I also had the chance to work with Karen Thornton and Mary Larson, both of whom helped push me to greater creativity in my design skills and served as sounding boards as I began to consider starting my own company. Karen also contributed to the next item.

2. Get involved with the local ATD chapter.

I’ve attended meetings – some of which have exposed me to new content and some of which have exposed me to new contacts. My colleague Karen Thornton recommended me to serve as the emcee for this year’s annual chapter conference.

Benefits: As I mentioned in the first point, making a contact with someone from the University of Washington led to a paid project. Growing more connected to the leadership of the chapter has led to referrals for other projects and the opportunity to practice a different skill set as the emcee of next month’s annual conference.

3. Write.

I began blogging in 2012 and committing to a regular publishing schedule has forced me to look around at trends and research as well as to constantly reflect on projects I’ve worked on in order to come up with new material. I’ve also had the chance to write several guest blog posts as well as a few articles for TD magazine (on game play in training, thinking inside the box and the value of an additional training FTE).

Benefits: I’ve never been paid for an article or blog post, but they’ve given me great exposure and forced me to stay current on what’s happening in the world of L&D. Through my writing, I’ve connected with other bloggers and magazine editors. One blog reader reached out to me for a conversation and became one of my biggest clients.

4. Tweet.

I was slow to warm to Twitter. What can be accomplished 140 characters at a time? It has turned out to be one of my favorite professional development tools. Several years ago I stumbled into the world of Tweet Chats, and for a while I consistently participated in #lrnchat and #guildchat, which exposed me to the thinking of some of the top leaders across L&D. I also established relationships with a number of other L&D professionals around the world.

Benefits: My favorite benefit of my Twitter activities has been the opportunity to meet so many L&D professionals from around the world. Many of the L&D professionals who participate in the Tweet Chats will also be mainstays at a variety of industry conferences. When I have an opportunity to attend a conference, it’s like I already have a built-in network of people with whom I can sit at lunch or with whom I can go out to dinner!

5. Facilitate a webinar.

I happened to be perusing my university’s alumni website several years ago when I noticed an invitation to submit a proposal to conduct a webinar. I actually ended up facilitating several webinars for The George Washington University’s alumni association and have since facilitated several other webinars. Again, I’ve never been paid for any of these opportunities, but they’ve pushed me to develop skills in delivering in an online format as well as pushed me to focus on content I wouldn’t normally focus on in my day job.

Benefits: Facilitating webinars has offered me exposure to audiences across the country and around the world with whom I normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to interact. As I’ve moved away from direct delivery of training in order to focus more on overall L&D strategy development, these webinars have offered an opportunity to stay connected with my instructional design and facilitation.

These are five of my own ideas. What have you been up to outside of your normal job duties that’s helped you stretch your abilities and hone your craft?

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