My practices for getting the most out of attending a conference include making the lists outlined below. As you read this post think about your tips for generating these lists. What other lists do you find helpful? Please share your replies in comments below this post.
In summary the lists are:
Make or start before the Conference:
Make during or shortly after the conference:
- Key Takeaways / Insights
- Relationship Follow Ups
Lists to make or start before the Conference
Complete this list before the conference begins. Ask yourself: “Why am I going to this conference? What do I want to get out of this conference?”
This list could include a general theme you will use to orient your activities at the conference, e.g. Collaboration, Strategy, Leadership, Science of Learning, Technology, Thought Leadership. For theme ideas consider your professional development plan / direction, work projects, topics you’ve been reading about recently, a recent or upcoming challenge / opportunity.
Include more specific outcomes, for example:
- To get ideas for enabling informal learning in my organisation
- To improve learning evaluation in my organisation
- To use learning science to improve learning strategy in my organisation
- To identify next steps in building my thought leadership
- To meet people with experience in XYZ
List a maximum of three specific outcomes to help you to focus.
Ask yourself: “Why do I want to interact with people at this conference? Who do do I want to meet or interact with?”
Start this list before the conference. Think about your WHY first – consider the following:
- Your conference goals – who or what type of people are relevant to these goals?
- Your professional network – are there gaps you’d like to fill or people you’d like to renew or strengthen your relationship with?
- Is there something you are involved with that you’d like to promote or advocate?
- If you Work Out Loud, look at your relationship list .
- What contribution(s) would you like to make to others at the conference?
Enjoying yourself and having a little fun is a good reason to interact too!
Be selective when making your list as you are unlikely to be able to interact meaningfully with everyone who is there. Use your WHY to develop and then prioritise your list if it is long.
Look at the conference website and program to view speakers / facilitators, organisers, advisory committee members, sponsors and exhibitors. Find out who is coming to the conference. Contact people in your network and ask if they are attending or know anyone who is. Do a Twitter search on the conference hashtag to see who is using it. Check the Twitter account of the conference hosts / organisers and subscribe to their Twitter list for the conference, or start your own event Twitter list.
What other ideas do you have for finding out who is going to the conference?
In addition to listing specific individuals, think about what ‘type’ of people you would like to meet. For example, people who:
- Have a specific skill or type of experience
- work in a certain type of role, industry or organisation
- come from a specific country, region or city
- Have similar conference goals to you
- are in a certain age bracket
- are in a different profession to you
- are different to you in some way
- write blogs or articles
Update your list during the conference as you discover new people, get insights from sessions and discussions, and referrals from other attendees.
Look at the conference program and pick what sessions you want to attend. Often exhibitors present informal sessions about their area of expertise or products and services, so look at these too. Assess relevance of sessions to your goals and whether they sound appealing to you. Read session descriptions and speaker biographies in the program or conference website. Search online for content that the speaker has created (e.g. articles, videos), interviews with them or information about their work.
Identify sessions relevant to your goals, or being presented by people that you’d like to interact with or learn from. If there are a lot of concurrent breakout sessions that you are interested in find out if any of them are being recorded so that you can view them after the conference. If you are attending the conference with colleagues or people in your network you could go to different breakout sessions and discuss sessions / share notes with them afterwards.
Consider attending at least one session that is on a topic outside of your normal field of interest – to be open to serendipity and the opportunity to learn something new.
Be flexible during the conference. You may get new information or an insight which changes your session choices. If you are in a session and not getting what you need from it then it’s okay to leave. Use the time to try another session, speak to exhibitors or meet with people.
Exhibitors help cover conference costs, so it’s good form to spend some time in the exhibition area. There may be some overlap with your People list, and the factors impacting which exhibitors you visit are similar to the People list. Think about what types of services or products you’d like to learn about to figure out which exhibitors to visit and what you’d like to achieve. This could range from simply thanking sponsors to a brief conversation and collecting literature or a product demonstration.
You could make an initial Exhibitors list before or at the start of the conference – whenever you have access to information on Exhibitors. At a large conference, walk right around the exhibition area and identify which booths you’d like to return to. You may need to prioritise this list.
Lists to make during or shortly after the Conference
Key Takeaways / Insights
Look through your session notes and identify a short list of key takeaways or insights from each session. See my post from Enterprise Collaboration TechFest for an example of what this might look like. You can do the same for your interactions with people and visits to exhibitors, as well as personal reflections on specific or overall experiences at the conference.
Putting these all into a single location helps you to synthesise what you heard and discussed in order to identify key themes or recurring ideas you picked up at the conference. It also makes it easy to review what you learned at a conference at a later point.
Definitely start this list at the conference while things are fresh in your mind. Make a list of all actions you are considering taking as a result of your conference experiences. Get it all down. Think of it as a someday/maybe list. Use whatever tool or system works for you – paper or electronic. After the conference read through your list and highlight anything you are committing to do. Look at your goals list before you do this to provide context. Move highlighted items to your regular action / to do list – then get on with it.
As an extension activity set up a learning transfer buddy agreement with someone at the conference. This is a great idea I picked up from Emma Weber of Lever – Transfer of Learning. I’ll update this post with a link to details of how to set up your agreement so you make maximum progress.
Relationship Follow Ups
Developing your network is a key benefit of attending a conference. Relationship follow ups are a special set of actions which warrant a separate list. You can include both specific actions you are committed to doing as well as possible future connections and contributions you could make to a person.
Again, start this list at the conference, especially if you make specific promises to anyone. Write down the name of the person, follow up action and target date. Ensure you have their contact details or know where to find them online. Add them to your online network as you go by sending them a LinkedIn invitation or following them on Twitter – or do this shortly after the conference if you prefer.
Make brief notes about who you meet and interact with, including valuable informal discussions. You could write key points on business cards. Look through your notes after the conference and add to your follow up list.
Make a list of resources that speakers mention which sound interesting and potentially useful. This will include books, articles, other publications, videos, podcasts, websites, organisations or associations, and tools. Add suggestions from exhibitors and other attendees.
Speakers sometimes provide access to additional resources via a hyperlink or email address. Even if you access these resources on the spot it can be helpful to add these to your consolidated resources list for future reference.
Where to make your lists
In a nutshell, wherever and however it suits you. You may have existing systems you use rather than making standalone lists. For example:
- Write goals in your electronic journal – I keep mine on Evernote.
- Create a Twitter list for people and exhibitors.
- Tweet key insights then use Storify to collate them.
- Add actions straight into your ‘to do’ software/app with a category or tag for the conference so you can sort and review them later.
- Curate resources straight to a social bookmarking tool such as Diigo or Pearltrees
There’s always an old-fashioned notebook or index cards. Whatever approach you use, make it convenient and efficient for you to use.
Over to you
What are your tips for these lists? Are there other lists you like to make before, during or after a conference?
Jane Hart runs an annual online survey of learning professionals to identify the Top 100 Tools for Learning. Twitter has been voted as the No. 1 tool in this survey for the past seven years. In the past two years it has transformed my professional development, and I take every opportunity to encourage others in my organisation and profession to use Twitter.
In this post I share some approaches and resources that I have used to help others to get started with Twitter. I have run informal group sessions inside my organisation, and a pre-Conference ‘learning lounge’ at the 2016 Australian Institute of Training and Development Conference. Recently I’ve included resources on why and how to use Twitter in a self-directed micro-learning program created to build digital and network skills and habits in my organisation. Additionally, on-the-spot opportunities frequently arise to discuss Twitter and show people how to get started.
Explain the Why
To the uninitiated, Twitter, along with other social media platforms, can appear to be a place where people go for gossip, celebrities and cat videos – in short, a waste of time. This is why it’s important to focus on the WHY and bust some myths before moving to the HOW to use Twitter. This is as true for group presentations as it is for spontaneous discussions. Helen Blunden of Activate Learning Solutions discusses this more fully in her blog post How Do You Start Out in Twitter? Find the Why First.
One Hour Customised Workshop
I ran my first one hour Twitter workshop as part of a ‘lunch and learn’ professional development series in early 2015. I searched for existing resources and found Helen Blunden’s post on How to Promote Twitter for Professional Development to Your Colleagues. I downloaded her slide pack, updated it to reflect changes to the Twitter interface since her post, and customised it. Customisation included stories of my own experience and the opportunities that had been created actively engaging with others on Twitter and building my network. I included Twitter profile pictures of the people involved in my stories, explaining how I had built my relationship with them and the way we had collaborated. This was the most powerful part of my presentation as it illustrated the spirit of generosity and reciprocity that can be generated in online networks over time. I could see the light bulbs going on for people. I also identified Twitter accounts relevant to my audience so I could suggest useful people and organisations for them to follow.
See Helen’s post for tips on how to promote and attract people to your event.
During the session I moved between the PowerPoint material, demonstrating things on my laptop, and supporting people to try things out on their laptop or devices. I had another experienced Twitter user present to help support people – it’s important to have enough support to get people hands-on during the session.
You can view my presentation below and download it to update and customise it if you would like to use it. If you compare it to Helen’s presentation you’ll see where I have re-used versus customised content.
Half Hour Pre-Event Demonstration
The AITD invited me to run an informal 30 minute ‘learning lounge’ on the morning of Day One of their 2016 conference. The intent was to encourage and equip attendees to join in the conversation on the backchannel. What a great initiative! Instead of just telling conference-goers that they should use Twitter, it equips them to get started and gives them an active conversation to join in so they can see benefits immediately.
I was unsure how many people would attend a session at 8.30am prior to Conference kick off. The session had been included on the conference agenda, and one of the AITD team told me that whenever they responded to a query about the conference they had encouraged people to come along. They must have done a good job at this – there was around 80-100 people at the session! I checked existing Twitter experience with the group and what they hoped to get from the session. It was great to see some active users who had come to support those new to Twitter. Others had signed up several years prior, but not known how to use the platform effectively. Several people did not yet have accounts. So, a mixed group.
Instead of using a slide pack I demonstrated directly from my iPad which I projected using a lightning to VGA adapter (a little pricey at AUD$75, but a useful tool). I chose to project from a mobile device rather than a laptop as attendees would be using mobile devices during the Conference. My goal was to quickly get people comfortable enough with ways of engaging with others on Twitter (e.g posting, replying, retweeting, quoting tweets, using hashtags) that they would follow and start participating in the #AITD2016 backchannel.
You can download the session run script. I followed it fairly closely and found that it flowed well. I had been concerned that there wouldn’t be enough content in the backchannel before the conference had started to demonstrate some of the functionality so had asked some of my Twitter buddies to post. It turned out there was plenty of content to use, so it was easy to demonstrate everything in the script. I only just got through everything on the script in 30 minutes, and didn’t have time to check that novices were hands-on trying things as I demonstrated. I did offer to provide individual help to anyone who needed it after the session, and provided a job aid for iOS mobile devices. Note that the Twitter interface does change over time, so suggest you check this job aid (created May 2015) before reusing it.
Although not in the script some people were interested in how to use Twitter lists, so I demonstrated this in an extra five minutes at the end of the session. Lists are a very useful filtering mechanism, although a little advanced for an introductory demonstration.
In my organisation we have been developing a self-directed micro-learning version of our Work Connect and Learn program. This program aims to build digital, networking and knowledge management skills and habits. Program ‘modules’ are shown below.
Twitter is included as a topic under ‘Online Networking Tools’ in the Connect and Network module. Justine Jardine has done a great job curating and presenting content in the program. We’ve applied a ‘less is more’ philosophy, providing just enough commentary to introduce a topic and links to resources for people to explore independently, plus suggested activities. (As an aside, a discussion forum is provided for people to respond to some activities and interact as they wish as they complete the program and try out new approaches and tools.)
The list of topics and links to curated resources is below, followed by the suggested activity.
- What is Twitter?
- Why Use Twitter?
5 Reasons Every Professional Should Use Twitter
- Mindset (open, sharing, collaborative)
- How to Get Started
Signing Up with Twitter
Getting Started with Twitter
New User FAQs
Twitter mobile aid
How to Twitter (infographic)
How to Use Twitter: A Simple Infographic
How About You?
Have you used any of these approaches to encourage and support people to get started using Twitter for professional development? Perhaps you’ve used other approaches? What are your observations and tips? Please leave a comment in reply.
I attended Enterprise Collaboration Techfest in Melbourne, Australia 29 Feb – 1 March 2016. I’m hosting a follow-up blab to discuss questions, ideas and themes – on Tuesday 15 March 8.00pm AEST (Sydney time) . In advance of this blab I wanted to share my personal notes from the sessions I attended. Keep in mind that I’ve polished these notes a little in order to share them and help seed discussion on the blab, but they’re mostly for my personal use.
Below I’ve listed each session I attended, my key takeaways and any potential personal actions. Click on the session title to access my session notes in Evernote. I’ll update some of these notes in the coming week e.g adding images of key slides.
Today’s Digital Collaboration Tools – Connecting Everything to High Value Business Outcomes, Dion Hinchcliffe – Chief Strategy Officer, Adjuvi
- Difference between coordination, cooperation and collaboration – the need to explain what collaboration is.
- Seek to put community in the centre of everything I do
- Open up the Doors to Collaboration. Don’t prescribe who can participate. Don’t make assumptions on who should be involved.
- Get a copy of Social Business by Design – Dions book. Management strategy guide and handbook on social business.
- Learn about blockchain
- Learn about the Internet of things
- Check out Slack – the ‘one collaboration tool to rule them all’.
Fashioning New Ways of Engaging with Customers and Technology at Burberry, Robyn Randell – VP IT Asia Pacific, Burberry
My key takeaways:
- User adoption – small things make a big difference e.g. Show users 1:1 how to use things
- Give people the functionality they need to do to their job and they will not want to find more tools
- Do things WITH people, not to people
My potential follow on actions:
- Capability Community – consider introducing a ‘Capability Roundup’ in fortnightly catchups – stories of either Learning/Development wins or failures/opportunities from learners across business unit
Leadership in the New Era of Enterprise Collaboration – From Dictator to Collaboration, Paul Miller – CEO and Founder, Digital Workplace Group
My key takeaways:
- Power centres are moving from physical to digital workplace. If you’re invisible in digital channels you will become invisible in the organisation.
- Endeavour to create functional, beautiful digital workplaces.
- For most of us if our physical workplace were designed like our virtual workplaces we would refuse to work there.
My potential follow on actions
This session was a call to action to create digital workspaces with as much care and thought as we create physical workspaces.
- Look critically at our community hubs and other digital spaces – how could we make them more beautiful and easy to use, more like a consumer experience?
My key takeaways:
- Understand the reason that a collaborative culture is important to your organisation. Collaboration is not an end in itself.
- To build a culture of collaboration select people who value collaboration and encourage them to decide how to work together
- Recognise collaboration as a leadership skill.
- Who should own collaboration?
- Should we worry about ‘shadow’ IT?
- How do you keep collaboration on the management agenda?
The Four Pillars of a Collaboration Enterprise, Silvio Damiano – CEO, Founder, About My Brain Institute
Session looked at how individual leaders could improve collaboration through their personal trust-building behaviours.
The 4 pillars at an individual level to drive collaboration are:
- Inspiration – Become the source of inspiration, not source of desperation – leave people with more energy in every encounter
- Communication – Improve the way you communicate
- Generosity – Grow your generous side
- Courage – Have courage to address the issues that need to be addressed
My potential actions
- Read biographies to study how generosity looks like in the life of others.
- Use reflection tool on quality of relationships to think about quality of some of my key relationships and how I could improve them in order to improve collaboration (tool is in image at end of my session notes)
Human Centered Digital Workplace – Creating Digital Worlds Where We Want to Work, Paul Miller – CEO and Founder, Digital Workplace Group
My key takeaways:
Our Digitial world needs to be seen as a new dimension of human experience and have characteristics of beauty. Digital workplace needs to be well architected and maintained. It should be welcoming and functional.
My potential actions:
- Improve governance of digital workplace in my organisations – Create good governance so content is accurate, reliable, timely.
- Read Good Governance Practice Guide – Digital Workplace Group eBook
Using Community to take Enterprise Collaboration to the Next Level, Dion Hinchcliffe – Chief Strategy Office, ADJUVI
My key takeaways:
- Community management is an essential skill set in organisations.
- Community management is maturing as a practice.
- Community Managers speed adoption
My potential actions:
- Update ‘business case’ for Community Management in my own organisation using content, research and case studies shared in this session
- Develop community playbook and roadmaps for all communities.
- Look at community success metrics which are emerging
Communications Strategy or Collaboration Strategy? Hint: Employees Demand Both, Ethan McCarty – Global Head of Employee Communications, Bloombergs
My key takeaways
Content and people were two key themes that stood out to me in this session.
- Meaningful content is important
- People->Process->Platform (in that order)
- “Killer app” is our employees – especially in connecting with external world. Encourage them to share content in days that are appropriate for them
My potential actions
- Develop content strategy for my Capability Community.
- Include content strategy in Community Playbook.
- Figure out how to access and use SharePoint data
- Investigate Design Thinking, Lean Start-Up and Agile – how can I use these in my work?
- How can I encourage Capability Community members to share content across our organisation in order to build learning culture?
Delivering a Truly Collaborative Workforce, Sean Hallahan – Managing Director, TATA Global Beverages Australia
My key takeaways:
Note – although the Tata team is small (40 employees) the leadership approaches discussed could be adopted at team level within a larger organisation.
- Focus on the “human” (team) first then allow them to choose their technology.
- Leader as host rather than leader as hero – important mindset shift
- Intangible things people want from leaders
My potential actions:
- Read Margaret Wheatley Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host
- View Simon Sinek Ted Talk on ‘Why’ again
- Consider whether my leadership delivers on the ‘intangible things people want from leaders’
Enterprise Collaboration TechFest Final Panel – Delivering Digital Workplace Strategies for Competitive Advantage
My key takeaways:
- Strategies to gain executive sponsorship (see session notes for list)
- Utility is the #1 driver of adoption
My potential actions:
- Develop 30 second elevator pitch on collaboration in my organisation
- Prepare 2-3 page presentation pitching collaboration for my organisation
- Community Playbook – look at notes on ROI from panel for ideas on outcomes and metrics
- When engaging with a new team on collaboration find out what their business problem is and the metrics around it
Other Conference Resources