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Ask a Trainer: How Do I Make the Most Out of My First Conference?

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Hi, Tim!

I work as a relatively new instructional technologist at a major university in the Midwest. This week I’ll be attending ATD TechKnowledge, which happens to be my first conference. While I’m excited about attending, I’m also a little overwhelmed. I want to make sure I’m able to take it all in.

Can you share any advice on how I can make the most of my conference experience?

I love attending and speaking at the various learning conferences each year. My first conference was the 2010 Learning Solutions Conference & Expo, and it was that conference that convinced me to dedicate my career to e-learning and instructional design. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend and speak at several conferences, and they all hold a special place in my heart.

As you mentioned, it can be a little (or a lot) overwhelming attending a conference, especially when there are hundreds of different sessions and people packed into a few short days. It can leave you wondering where to start

Over the years, I’ve realized there are a few simple things you can do to make the most of your conference experience. Here are my top three tips:

Tip #1: Make an Agenda With Multiple Options
One of the biggest challenges of attending a conference is the large number of sessions packed into a limited amount of time. It’s easy to find yourself stuck between wanting to attend ones that are occurring at the same time.


Because of this, I always recommend making an agenda that includes multiple options. The likelihood is that you’ll attend a session that is full or isn’t as interesting as you hoped (see the second tip), so it’s always a good idea to know of one or two back-up sessions you’d like to try.

Tip #2: If You Don’t Like a Session, Leave!
Part of the reason you want to have one or two back-up sessions ready is that you’ll likely find yourself in a session that just isn’t doing it for you. There are always sessions that look good on paper but are less than appealing once you get in the room and the presenter is five minutes into their presentation.

In these situations, the worst thing you can do is just sit there and wait until the session is over to leave. Instead, get up, walk out, and go to one of your back-up sessions. While you may feel awkward or rude doing this, you (or your organization) spent a bunch of money to be there—it’s your time.

Tip #3: Explore Outside of the Concurrent Sessions
My final tip is to explore sessions and events outside of the concurrent sessions. It’s easy to get sucked into the endless one-hour sessions; however, most conferences (including ATD TechKnowledge) typically have a large selection of special events, stages, playgrounds, and other opportunities to network and absorb great content.

Don’t be afraid to explore and take a detour off your agenda. You’ll likely discover something cool or helpful that you couldn’t have ever planned for.


I hope these tips help. Enjoy the conference and I hope to see you there!


Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to Also, visit the Ask a Trainer hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.

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Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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