As leaders, we have made a commitment to be life-long learners. Conferences and trainings can be two of the best ways to accelerate learning and professional development. I am an admitted Conference and Training Junkie, but I have limited time, conferences funds, and other resources. I want to get the most of attending conferences and I have developed a few strategies to help me do that.
1. Choose focus areas: As leaders, we can ask ourselves in what areas of leadership do we want professional development. My interest areas are communication, diversity and inclusion, and coaching. I am most willing to spend money to hear from thought leaders, teachers, and trainers on those topics. Additionally, a conference or training has to promise to teach me more than I already know.
2. Plan annually: By the end of the current year, we can identify the must have conferences and trainings for the upcoming year. I research the “who, what, when, where, and how much” to the degree possible. The final touches on my plan is the securing the any needed approvals and setting aside any needed personal time and funds to follow through with my annual training plan. A cautionary rule is not to overlook the hidden jewels in our own backyards. Local training options are often less expensive and there my be the added possibility that we may be able to connect with the local trainers and experts more easily or frequently after the event.
3. Practice a Beginner’s Mind: The possibilities for learning increase when we approach opportunities with an openness and not a fixed mindset. By selecting conferences that will offer new data, speakers, or perspectives, I help to prepare my mind for the introduction of new insights.
4. Introduce yourself to the community: The community is made up the facilitators, experts, and attendees. I make a point of having at least one interaction that is more than typical exchange of business cards or a textbook networking. Break, lunch, and dinner times are opportune times for me to meet various people and get to know what they do and what they plan on doing with the information presented. This approach works for me as I don’t usually eat breakfast and I’m not quick to ask questions on the spot as I need time to process and reflect on information. My greatest success happened 18 years ago when I stayed and talked with the lead trainer. I shared how I would use the information and skills presented. From that conversation, our relationship has developed where I have assisted, co-trained, and co-presented with this expert. Today social media has made it easier to connect and stay in contact with our trainers and fellow attendees, and I use the platforms as a way to connect and share information of mutual interest.
5. Practice the skills and share the information: Good training materials should not sit on a shelf collecting dust. I immediately share what I learn with others in my organization who can use the information. I will purchase recommended reading materials and resources and share those as well. I identify one way I may personally put the materials to use. It is also effective if I schedule a date on my calendar to review the training materials.
Here’s a closing bonus strategy: When we are at a conference, we need to mentally and energetically leave the office. We need to be fully present
to participate and learn. This is impossible if we are taking calls and constantly checking emails. We can establish a time to check emails or to call the office, but we need to delegate responsibilities to ensure our organizations can operate during our absence. We need to silence our smart devices and focus our energies and attention on what’s going on in the session.
How have you gotten the most out attending conferences?