International conferences provide a unique opportunity for training and development professionals to build our global network and learn about the global aspects of our field. With a little advanced planning, this experience can be maximized so that we come away with a newly enhanced global mindset. This year’s ASTD International Conference and Exposition (ICE) was particularly conducive for such professional development and networking. Below are some suggestions that anyone can use for their next conference.
Attend the international newcomer’s orientation. This orientation is officially for international attendees coming to the conference for the first time; however, it also presents a great opportunity for conference veterans to meet international representatives and offer themselves as a guide or mentor to a newcomer throughout the conference.
You can probably recall how intimidating your first ICE conference was. If you were fortunate, you knew someone who could show you around and help make introductions. While ASTD does provide guidance to first-time attendees, there is nothing like the personal touch of a colleague’s stopping by to say “welcome” and to help newcomers get the most out of their conference experience. You might also just make a long-term friend.
Visit the international lounge. The international lounge is another great place to meet representatives from other countries. There is always a crowd, refreshments, and an oversized map where attendees can place their business cards. In addition, there are many tables designated for particular countries. Last year I sat down to have coffee at the Dutch table and began a conversation with several Dutch attendees. When I mentioned that I had done some training in Leiden, someone at the table said, “You should meet our colleague from Leiden,” and called the person over. She turned out to be the director of the training program I had delivered. Now she’s an independent consultant, and we are working on ways to collaborate.
The wonderful thing about the lounge is that people are genuinely friendly. If you approach a stranger and ask them about the training issues in their country, they are happy to respond. Since one of my areas of interest is global diversity training initiatives I was able to speak with representatives from 18 countries (from Pakistan to Jamaica) about the nature of and practice of diversity and inclusion in their countries and learn some worst and best practices. Many people said they would put me in touch with local diversity and inclusion leaders when they returned home, and sure enough I now have more than 25 new contacts. Think of this as LinkedIn on steroids. Another person I met this year is a Chinese training and development leader for a leading organization who is also working on her doctorate. I am now unofficially acting as an adviser to her, and I am sure that I will learn as much as she will from this global opportunity.
Attend sessions that are part of the Global track. This year there was a Global Human Resource Development track, a Global Voices format, and many sessions with a global focus. The Global Voices format included presenters form various countries outside the United States discussing a variety of topics or American presenters focusing on global topics. If you wanted an education on global HR, you simply had to follow that track to find like-minded attendees from a range of countries. In my session on Global Diversity, which was part of the Global Human Resources track and the Global Voices format, we had representatives from more than 20 countries and it made for a wonderful learning experience.
With travel funds being limited, we need to take advantage of every opportunity to expand our global perspective and network. Taking full advantage of global forums such as the ASTD International Conference and Exposition is a great way to go global. Plus, it makes conferences all that more interesting.
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