Taking a Conference Virtual

Conference season is coming! What do conferences look like during the time of Covid-19? One of our favorite conferences, Learnapalooza, is taking things virtual this year and we sat down with Chief Innovator Erin Peterschick to hear what she and her team are planning.

This conference is typically set in the Seattle area and offers an affordable and engaging conference experience. Facing the disruption of Covid-19, Erin and her team have moved quickly to create a virtual experience accessible by anyone while still keeping the cost reasonable. To learn more about the speakers, panels, and engaging activities at  Learnapalooza, please visit LapJam 2020 or keep up with real-time updates on their Twitter feed.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Erin Peterschick

Brian Washburn:  Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a bite-sized podcast about all things learning and development. Today we’re joined by Erin Peterschick from Boeing, who is a Learning Experience Designer. She’s also the Chief Innovator at Learnapalooza. And I’ve known Erin for probably about 10 years now. Erin, thanks so much for joining us.

Erin Peterschick: Thanks for having me, Brian. It’s an honor to be here.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: Well, as we always do, we like to start out just with a brief introduction of our guests using a six-word biography. Today, we’re going to be focused on the topic of moving from in-person to virtual, which you’re doing with your Learnapalooza conference this year. For me, when I think of my own life in six words along this theme, “I’ll change when I see benefit.” How about you, Erin? How would you describe yourself in six words?

Erin Peterschick: Yeah, I love this prompt. I spent some time thinking about it. And I think, given where we are right now, my current answer is “people connector pursuing my own awesomeness”.

Brian Washburn: And I would say that that is spot on. You are definitely a connector in the space of learning and development. And I’ve definitely benefited from that over the years. You and Darren have come up with this conference called Learnapalooza, which has been going on– how long has it been going on?

The History of Learnapalooza

Erin Peterschick: So we’re in our sixth year, technically, this year. We got together and recognized some kindred spirits. Darren was the former president of the local chapter of ATD here in the Puget Sound and was kind enough actually to take me up on a request for an informational interview, networking coffee, when I was actually living in China at the time and getting ready to come back to Seattle.

So I got involved with ATD. I connected with Darren. And he was the– this was his brainchild. And he was willing to let me come along and play…saw something in me and around the innovation space. I tend to be an early adopter, but he’s the technologist. I’m the people person. We thought that there needed to be something that showcased the regional talent…people like yourself, Chris Pirie you had on recently, Melissa Milloway, and any number of folks that are literally in our backyard.

The Puget Sound is home to some really amazing folks in the L&D space. And we thought we’d showcase them a little for the local community. 

Learnapalooza Going Virtual for 2020

Erin Peterschick: So ostensibly it was a local and regional conference for the last few years. But now, with everything happening and going virtual– and even the last couple of years, we have seen increasing interest from outside of the Puget Sound area.

I think it’s also the space for folks who maybe don’t normally get to access the big conferences for our industry. I personally was very budget conscientious when I came back from learning in China…was technically job seeking, volunteering for ATD. And so nobody was going to send me to ATD ICE.

And I really didn’t have the budget to afford it myself. So it was also at a reasonable price point to bring folks who maybe were newer to the L&D space, or didn’t typically get to access the big industry events, to showcase them as possible speakers, if they were willing to go there, or to just expose them to the amazing talent we do have right in our own backyard.

Brian Washburn: And it’s a very cool conference. It’s not your typical conference where you go and you sit in the room, either in a breakout room or keynote all day. Now, you do have those too. But you also have– I think that Learnapalooza has sponsored hackathons before. And you have the short speed rounds. There’s all sorts of cool things that happen. 

The Theme of Innovation at Learnapalooza

Brian Washburn: “Innovation” is its underlying theme. What are some of the coolest innovations you’ve seen in your time with Learnapalooza?

Erin Peterschick: Yeah, I think it’s important to talk about the different ways of defining innovation. Sometimes we, even in the L&D space, rush to thinking innovation means the latest technical gadget or whiz to help learning or upskilling take place. And certainly that’s true. Really innovation is thinking about doing something a little bit differently with maybe an existing business model, or existing ideas, and applying them differently or holding space for people to engage with those ideas differently and take them to the next level.

So I would say that one of the strong suits of Learnapalooza has been the latter of those two spaces, where sometimes the innovation comes in the form of just the way we force people to be really scrappy. And you only do have 10, 15, 20 minutes to do something like a speed learning round. There aren’t going to be PowerPoints. There aren’t going to be even your own breakout rooms.

You’re going to be in a big room and it’s going to be kinda noisy and messy and chaotic…in a good way, I always say. So how can you impart learning? And how can we be our best selves when we know the fire hose doesn’t work…and you really do only have 15 minutes? What does microlearning, in-person, look like? What does community engagement and community- building look like?

How is Learnapalooza Different?

Erin Peterschick: Because that’s always been a big underlying value of the entire event. Innovation has come in a lot of forms, in the kinds of ideas that people have submitted and then the approaches that they’ve taken, really within some constraints that we impose upon them. For Darren and I, we personally try and innovate and disrupt ourselves, again, not necessarily from bringing the most edgy technology or shiny new gadgets, but in never doing the same thing really twice.

We always pick a different venue. We try and showcase cool venues. This year it was supposed to be at the Global Innovation Exchange, which is a collaboration between Microsoft, the University of Washington, and Tsinghua University out of Beijing, funnily enough.

They’re an incubator. They’re a place for people who want to get their masters of technology innovation– come to learn. And so we thought their ethos and our ethos were really well aligned. The physical space was good for the kind of community and interactions that I just described.

So the programming’s different. The space is different. The partners are different.

We do see some of the same speakers or sponsors wanting to come back and play with us. And we appreciate that. But we also let them know upfront like, “hey, we’re not we’re not always going to showcase the same folks.” We want to give equal platform to people from all over the L&D spectrum.

Brian Washburn:  And that is one of the things I’ve noticed about Learnapalooza is that it is a different crowd than sometimes when you go, whether it’s national events or some of the local or regional events, you start to see some of the same people. And Learnapalooza is typically different people each year, which is kind of neat. 

The Challenges of Shifting to Virtual

Brian Washburn: So speaking of innovation, and you started to touch on it just briefly in terms of you had big plans for a cool venue this year… and you’ve had to transform to an all-virtual event this year coming up in September. What have been some of the biggest challenges in that transformation?

Erin Peterschick:  First and foremost, I think we, like everybody else, are just grappling with “nothing is normal”. I am hesitant to even call anything “the new normal.” I don’t think we’re going to be in that space for a while. And so how do you want to approach that? Do you want to see it as something that’s scary? And it is… for a lot of people. Or do you want to see it as an opportunity, you know? And so we’re trying to come at it from the space of opportunity and a challenge and an exciting challenge to innovate and further disrupt ourselves.

I think you end up having questions and conversations with yourself, and your advisors, and your fellow organizers. “What’s still true today?” And maybe what’s true today is different than yesterday. What’s still true for us is things like, we really do still want to make it accessible and available to people. A lot of L&D folks have lost their jobs.

And so how do you, again, bring it on a budget to people who might be experiencing financial hardship? So we’ve disrupted our pricing tier even from what we were originally going to do. 

Networking and Community-building at Learnapalooza

Erin Peterschick: How do we build community and build connections? The networking and the learning and the margin and the energy of Learnapalooza is what is consistently cited as what makes people like us and want to come back, or attract the new folks, like you noted, Brian. What does that look like? We’re looking at that as a metric and as a request or a feature, as we were looking at the different online platforms for virtual events.

Brian Washburn: Yeah and this isn’t something where you just go in and say, OK, we’re going to use Zoom. Right?

Erin Peterschick: Right, right.

Brian Washburn: You’ve had to do something a little bit deeper because one of the — and this is something that I’ve seen with a lot of conferences that are going online — is that one of the biggest values to a conference is the conversations that you have in the hallway.

Erin Peterschick: Totally.

Brian Washburn: …conversations you have at lunch. It’s great to have super top-notch speakers. And it’s also great to be able to talk about some of those concepts. “How would I apply this in my own organization?”…”Erin said this…. How would you do that?…” What are some of the things that you’re looking to be able to do with the platforms you’re using?

Erin Peterschick: Yeah, so like I said, it was definitely something that we looked at for the platforms themselves. We ended up choosing a platform that we think will help elevate that. Though God’s honest truth, if I could, this is another part of the industry I would disrupt. So if anybody wants to get together and build the L&D learning experience platform, the entrepreneur in me is ready to go do that. So get in touch. Let’s go build it!

I think what we’re going to try and do is some both organic and some intentional matchmaking, kinda like speed learning and speed dating. You can also do speed networking. 

Brian Washburn: Yep.

Erin Peterschick: And we’ll be creating those spaces both organically on the side of the platform…and, literally, this is physically on the side of the screen that you’re looking at.

And there’s conversations and chats that you can engage in. But also things like what you’re going to do, Brian, where there is a whole hour basically dedicated to “ask an expert”. And people have real challenges. And so how do you go crowdsource from your peers, or from experts like Brian Washburn, you know, solutions to those real challenges? And what are the questions that we, as organizers, can use to seed those conversations as we’re marketing early on in the day?

So like, “OK, I’m seeing some themes here.” I want to make sure I address that from my perspective. And then of course, we want to help people connect with their peers, and job seekers and job offerers will be another space we’re holding.

Brian Washburn: This is for a big scale conference. I’ve spoken to other people who have had to transform in-person conferences to virtual. Lots of people have to transform their training sessions from in-person to virtual. 

Lessons Learned Transforming from In-Person to Virtual

Brian Washburn: Whether it’s a single training or an entire conference, what advice or lessons learned might you be able to offer to some of these people?

Erin Peterschick: Yeah, and I think I’ve had to learn this even myself in the last few weeks, where I have a lot of really amazing people in my network. We have a great advisory committee. But I felt very rushed. We felt very rushed. And we were like, “oh you got to make a decision. You got to communicate to your sponsors. You got to communicate to your speakers.” Like, “who’s still in? Who’s still out?”

When we don’t even know what platform we’re using… Don’t be afraid to huddle up with your trusted advisors…and try and make many hands make light work. I think that’s true for any event. I had a forehead to-facepalm moment, where one of our sponsors was like, “hey, why didn’t you talk to us about the platform research you were doing?” And I was like, “you know, I just…my brain is not what it was pre-COVID.” (CHUCKLING)

And so that was a really good reminder and I use that conversation with him to get more intentional about going to the different people in my advisory group and even a wider audience of like, “hey, you were in Learnapalooza last year, or you liked Learnapalooza, can you help me? Can you help me get the word out? I’m concerned some people aren’t going to want to go now that it’s virtual.”  You know, “Hey, I’ve lost some speakers because they just can’t do it. Things change. So help me quickly ramp up and find the kind of caliber of speaker that I’m used to recruiting and showcasing.” So use your tribe.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah. So Erin, thank you so much for talking about Learnapalooza and just this theme of innovation and how you’ve been– kind of the journey that you’ve taken to transform it from in-person to virtual. 

Get to Know Erin Peterschick

Brian Washburn: Before we go, I do have a few speed round questions for you if you’re up for it. Are you up for it?

Erin Peterschick:  Always.

Brian Washburn:  All right. So the first question I have is…You do a lot of presentations. What’s your go-to food before you need to present?

Erin Peterschick: A cup of tea and a piece of fruit.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I’m with you with the light breakfast or light meal. I can’t do something heavy before I present. How about a piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Erin Peterschick: My phone. If all bets are off, like everything fails, I think my phone will probably save me. And then it’s so great for networking and connecting with people, whether it’s LinkedIn, Find Nearby or whatever.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, absolutely. How about a book or a podcast people should be reading or listening to?

Erin Peterschick:  I’m pretty obsessed with “Brave New Work”, the book by Aaron Dignan. And then his podcast with his co-host and Ready partner–The Ready— Rodney Evans is great. And Rodney Evans is actually going to be on our panel talking about the new future of work at Learnapalooza.

Brian Washburn: Speaking of Learnapalooza, any shameless plug before we end here?

Erin Peterschick: Yeah, absolutely. So this is going to be a great event. It’s open to everyone. We’ve got capacity for as many people as we can hold. So find us at– we’ve got a bit.ly link, bit.ly/LAPJAM2020. And you can find us on Twitter @LAPSeattle. Learnapalooza is a mouthful, so we go by LAP.

Brian Washburn: Excellent. And so Erin, thank you so much for joining us. I will be at Learnapalooza. And I’m excited to be there. Erin Peterschick, the Chief Innovator of Learnapalooza, as well a learning experience designer at Boeing. Thank you, Erin, for joining us. And thank you everyone for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which is a bite-sized podcast for all L&D folk. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, iHeart Radio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. And if you so desire, go ahead and give it a rating. We’ll appreciate that as well. Until next week, happy training.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo.

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