If you’re in the training and development field, it’s likely you know that the 2014 ASTD International Conference and Exhibition, scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C., will be here in less than two months.
What you may not have thought about is how - by starting to prepare for the conference now - you’ll have the best chance to demonstrate your career savvy and take advantage of the scores of opportunities for growing and developing yourself professionally.
Get ready now? (You may be wondering). The conference isn’t around for another nine weeks! But that makes NOW the perfect time to start preparing – if you truly want to leverage the event for your own career growth.
The downside of waiting till the last minute – a day or so before you head off to the conference – is that you’ll likely be spending those couple days scrambling to take care of things at your office before you leave, as well as pack, and try to figure out how you can access the list of sessions so you can choose which ones you want to go to – as well as the social and other educational events you hope to attend. Face it - It’s difficult to plan as strategically as you’d like when you give yourself such a short timeframe in which to do it.
Try this instead:
- Take some serious time out from your work to reflect on where you are in your career at this very moment. Are you:
- new to the field and just learning the ropes of a new job?
- a professional who has been in the field for three years or so and wants to learn absolutely everything you can to grow some “deep smarts” in your role?
- an experienced professional with some significant time in the field who is looking to find other options beyond the work you’re doing right now?
- or a seasoned professional who is hoping to step up to more of a leadership role – or conversely, hoping to scale back on your responsibilities -and not quite sure how to do either?
Whether one of these statements describes your own professional status perfectly or your situation is entirely different, you’ll still benefit from determining where you are now and where you want to go next. So give yourself the quiet time to explore this important question.
Even if you’re not sure, that’s fine. If you’re not sure, write down the questions you have – what is it you’re not sure about – and what you think might help you learn more so you can gain some clarity on how to move forward.
- Next, spend some time reviewing the conference program to see what particular sessions or preconference workshops or certificate programs might either build on the skill base you already have or stretch you to broaden those areas of expertise you’re interested in learning more about. Mark those sessions accordingly.
- Review the other events taking place at the conference – you’ll find dozes of chances to learn about new areas you might have been curious about – or you may read about products you have really wanted to investigate in more detail as you review the Exhibitor Directory. Chances are high that the Exhibit Hall will give you a chance to do both.
- Now consider those people you’ve met at previous events – or the people whose articles you’ve read and learned from – or the colleagues that you’ve been meaning to reach out to but haven’t found the time to do so. Contact them – ask if they’ll be attending the conference – and if so, how might you connect with them?
- Interested in certain companies you think are doing really cool things in learning and development? See if they’re exhibiting or presenting. Find a way to attend their events and make it a point to introduce yourself.
- What about your business card? Your online profile? The latest project you’ve been involved in? An updated (and interesting) biz card, an addition to your online profile, or a copy of an exciting report you helped put together can be great to share with others at the conference. This is a great opportunity to include information on your business card, online portfolio or profile about what’s new in your world.
- Speaking of sharing – why not reach out to a colleague who recently contributed some helpful and insightful comments online that really helped you in your own work? Contact them before the conference to let them know how their comments inspired you. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee while you’re both at the conference.
- Sit down with your manager and outline the sessions and events you hope to attend at the conference. The fact that you’re trying to grow your career shouldn’t be a secret. Share your ideas with your boss or team members, tell them how you want to contribute to your division’s work – ask for their feedback and support.
Even if you’re not able to attend the conference, there are still a huge number of conference-related career-building strategies you can use to help you grow.
If you aren't able to attend this year’s ICE, see which of these ideas may work for you:
- Review the conference sessions and events well before the conference and reach out to colleagues and friends across the industry who may be attending. Ask if they’ll share their learnings with you either during or after the conference. Let them know which sessions you’re particularly interested in.
- The same thing goes for the Exhibit Hall – review the vendors who will be there. Ask colleagues to pick up any material for you and make it easy for them to get these items to you afterward.
- Reach out to presenters whose sessions look like they’d be of interest to you. Ask if you might connect with them afterward to chat a bit about their topic. (And yes, most presenters are happy to follow up with you!)
- Find ways to connect with colleagues who attended the conference to get their take on what they learned.
Most important—after the conference—ask yourself:
- How can I use what I learned?
- How will this information make a difference in my career?
- What ways do I want to grow from here?
What new information/data/attitude/excitement do I have now that might give me new ideas for how I see myself and my field?
All of the actions can really make a difference in your ability to grow your career. And yet each activity takes time. Waiting until two days before the conference begins won’t give you the time to leverage the conference in all the ways you can. Plan now and reap the benefits for your career in more ways than you can imagine. Enjoy this year’s ICE and keep moving your career forward!
Feel free to add other ideas to this list for your colleagues to consider as well.