Three Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Conference

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A lot of us who call ourselves learning and development or training professionals got here by accident. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a singer, a writer, or a teacher. Along the way, I’ve done a few of those professionally. (Alas, my singing pipes aren’t that great, so I can’t claim to be a rock star by ANY stretch of the imagination). I do write, and I have taught, but my profession is instructional design.

Chances are you didn’t aim your childhood aspirations on instructional design either, but here you are. At some point you decided to commit to this career with great passion—and presumably you want to be the best that you can possibly be, right? Right!

Those of us who get here by accident and then chose to make it a more intentional pursuit find many ways to consciously deepen our practice. I made a concerted effort to connect with other professionals through blogging and Twitter, and started stacking up books on e-learning, learning, and instructional design.

A big part of my learning journey from an accidental instructional designer to a passionate and professional one involved discovering and connecting with other passionate professionals with whom I can learn from and share my experiences. The upcoming ASTD International Conference & EXPO (ASTD 2014) is one of the best conferences around for networking, content discovery, and getting your finger on the pulse of what’s new in the field. I’m excited to be attending the conference for the fourth time.

If you’re attending ASTD 2014, here are three tips to help you focus your experience and get the most out of it.

Deepen Your Current Practice
Seek out conference sessions that speak to your sweet spot—those areas that you already know a lot about. Take your knowledge and skills to the next level and give yourself a little confidence boost—hey, I already knew that!

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone Seek out sessions in areas that are a bit unknown to you, perhaps even a little scary. Not sure what Google Glass and Oculus Rift are? Well, there’s a session to learn about that at ASTD 2014. Push yourself a little and broaden your knowledge.


Commit to Networking

At the conference, be sure to make a personal connection with at least one person that you’ll stay in touch with to share ideas, get professional advice, or learn more about a new area of practice. ASTD 2014 has a number of networking activities, including Networking Night on Tuesday evening at the Air and Space Museum.

Make a point of talking with people in the sessions you attend—don’t sit off by yourself in a corner the whole time. For many practitioners working within organizations it’s a relief to find people similar to them facing similar challenges in similar organizations. You may find someone struggling with the same issues you have, and they might turn out to have a brilliant solution or idea that you can borrow.

If you’re attending the conference with a big group from your company, be sure to break out a bit and talk to people that aren’t a part of your group.

To me, making personal connections is the best part of any conference. 

Stop by and see me!

I’ll be speaking at ASTD 2014 on Monday, May 5, from 3:00 to 4:15 p.m. In my session, The Accidental Instructional Designer, I’ll be sharing more tips from my own journey and will give you lots of practical ideas for taking your own practice to the next level. I hope to see you there! This is a topic I’m really passionate about—in fact, you’ll find my new book, The Accidental Instructional Designer: Learning Design for the Digital Age, in the ASTD Store. Swing by the store on Monday from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. to share your own story and pick up your own signed copy!

Join more than 9,000 of your learning colleagues from around the globe in Washington, D.C., May 4-7, 2014, to share best practices and insights at the ASTD 2014 International Conference & EXPO.

About the Author
Cammy Bean is the VP of Learning Design for Kineo, a global organization specializing in elearning solutions. Cammy Bean has worked as an eLearning instructional designer since the mid-90's (way back in the olden days, before we even called it e-learning!) In addition to the occasional novel, she likes to read books on instructional design and learning theory.

Mom to three kids, five fish, and one lizard, Cammy lives in Massachusetts. You can contact her on Twitter @cammybean or through her blog Learning Visions
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