Getting the Most Out of Conferences
There are many ways to develop personally and professionally to grow into your career, some of which include: take a workshop or course, observe more seasoned professionals performing the work, be mentored or attend conferences.
Many professionals opt to attend conferences because they often get the latest scoop on what’s happening in their fields, from forward thinkers. And good conferences are content rich, but can potentially overwhelm if people do not have a plan on how to collect and use the new information. Without a plan, realistically, how often do they implement what they have learned?
A Tale of Two Conferences
In February there were two social media conferences in Toronto: Social Media Week, February 1 – 5, 2010 and Podcamp Toronto, February 20 -21st. Both conferences were content rich, but at one, the sessions were over two hours long while the other was only 30 minutes each, which made a huge difference in attendee engagement.
Podcamp, the unconference, is different from other conferences because it's organized by participants for participants. Connie Crosby, one of the key organizers emphasized that participants are responsible for their own learning, that is, take control of their own professional development. Participants were encouraged to practice The Rule of Two Feet, which is to leave sessions if they felt that they weren't getting what they needed, and attend others to see if there was a better fit for them. The Rule of Two Feet is a mechanism to increase participant satisfaction. And self-responsibility is always a good option.
How to Plan for a Conference (or any Event) to Get the Most From It
- Look at the event agenda if there is one, to learn about what will be presented
- Why are you attending the event? What are you hoping to accomplish?
- Is there a skill gap that you are trying to fill? What specific pieces of new information are you lacking? Who at the event will have the information you require to fill the gap?
- Make a list of questions that you would like answered. Who are the people who will likely be able to answer those questions
- Are there people at the event that you would like to meet? Find out from the event organizers if they can introduce you to those people
- Manage your expectations and align them with the cost of the event
- Be open and flexible and expect the unexpected
- Be realistic about the number of sessions that you can attend
- Make sure to have fun
- Pay attention to your pre-conference planning and implement it
- If a concurrent session is not meeting your expectation, leave and attend another, you might be surprised
- If there are two sessions that you would like to attend that are running concurrently, find someone who is attending one of those sessions and ask them to take notes to share with you, and offer to share your notes for the other session with them
- Connect with people and extend the conversation because that’s where the real learning begins
- While you are consuming new information, connect it to what you already know because nothing exists in a vacuum.
- Take action immediately after the event so you do not lose momentum. So, if you plan to set up a Wiki, do it immediately and do not put it off for “tomorrow”
- Share the information with others to cement it in your mind
- Think of unusual ways in which you can use the information