Tom’s top tips to combat con-fusion
Everyone likes a good conference, right? But, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have experienced the con-fusion… you see what I did there… that comes from too many people, too many booths and nowhere near enough time.
With the World of Learning Summit just around the corner, I thought I’d share my top tips on getting the most out of conferences and exhibitions.
Set and align your goals
As with everything we do in L&D, alignment to broader goals is essential. Consider what your personal and professional development goals are and how the event aligns to them.
If one of your goals this year is to expand your professional network, check to see if there are designated networking areas, events or lounges. In the case of World of Learning, there is a dedicated business and networking lounge in the centre of the exhibition hall.
Perhaps your goals revolve around identifying new technologies and cutting edge innovations in the industry. In this case, look for dedicated innovation zones, and hands-on experience areas. You’ll often find vendors working in these spaces in the exhibition hall as well, so may even be giving free seminars.
Whatever your goals are, take the time to figure out what you want to get out of the event. Not only will this set you up for success, but it will also give you some tangible reasons if you need to sell the attendance costs to your line manager!
Plan your day
Conferences can be hectic places. Huge rooms filled with people, vendors, speakers, and press, all with somewhere to be. Luckily, these events are extremely well organised, and everything runs on a timetable. Ahead of attending an event, build yourself a schedule for the day or days ahead.
I use my Google calendar to book key sessions I don’t want to miss. By pulling the details from the organiser’s website, I can have all the details I need on my phone and with me on the day of the event.
World of Learning helpfully provides a full list of the seminars and conference sessions for the whole event on the website ahead of time. Make sure you leave room in your day to join us for some Learning Design Live sessions… sorry not sorry, for the shameless plug!
Pack a conference kit
This may sound a little OTT but bear with me. Conference venues are amazing but can be tricky places if you’re not prepared. That is why I have a standard conference pack for every event I attend. It’s nothing crazy, just a lightweight backpack with a few key items in it.
- Note pad (Obvious note taking reasons)
- Pens (3-5 known good pens that you don’t mind losing )
- Power bank (This can be a life saver during a long day, especially in your schedule is on your phone)
- Water bottle (Conference centres always have cafes, but they can be pricey. Water is free!)
- Light snacks (A couple of brunch bars or your chosen equivalent can help get you through the day)
- Paper copy of your booking (This sounds old fashioned, but signal is not guaranteed at check in!)
You can add whatever you want to this kit, but these are the basics I always have with me. You may not always use all of it, but it never hurts to be prepared.
Most events today have a social media tie-in. For World of Learning, it’s #WOL23 on Twitter. Engaging with the organiser’s Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram accounts throughout the event can be a great way to keep up with developments and share your experiences. This can also be a way of connecting with other attendees during and after the event.
Just go for it
This is always easier on paper than in real life. But, consider this; you have this one, or maybe two days, surrounded by your peers. Make this moment count. Speak to as many people as possible, and approach people you might never get a chance to see in your normal day-to-day life. Go and chat with the exhibitors from that company you think is cool, and say a quick hello to an author you admire or a podcaster you listen to. If, like me, you’re not the most socially adept, keep it simple. Smile, say hello and say that you just wanted to say hello because you like what they do. Most people will react positively to this. L&D conferences are an amazing opportunity to expand your network.
I did this myself last year when I quickly got to say hello to John Heller, host of the Learning Hack podcast. Where else would I get the opportunity to do that?
As we’re on the topic of saying hello, make sure you find the Learning network’s stand (A80 in the case of World of Learning), and come and say hello to us!
Follow it up
With the event fading into the rear-view mirror, it would be all too tempting to take a long nap and look forward to next year but don’t. Well, do, but make some time for reflection and planning as well.
The first 3-5 days after the event are your best opportunity to distil actionable value from what you experienced. That doesn’t mean taking action right now, but considering what action you want to or could take.
This is a great time to reach out to interesting people you met at the event and let them know you found them interesting. Not only does this show them your appreciation, but it also expands your network.
Go back to the goals you set before the event. Did you meet them? What do you need to learn more about? Whom do you need to connect with? What do you want to change?
This time to reflect is essential for the trip to impact you and your organisation positively.
So, that’s my guide to getting the most out of conferences and exhibitions. None of this is new or ground-breaking stuff, but it’s always worth refreshing ourselves before the year’s events really kick off.
If you’re attending the World of Learning Summit in London Olympia on February 28th, be sure to come and see us at stand A80 and swing by Learning Design Live, our micro-conference within the exhibition hall at stand A90.