I’ve recently returned from attending my second major industry event, the Learning Solutions Conference (LSCon 2014) in sunny Orlando, Florida. As my regular readers know, I use my blog to chronicle my learning experiences, so I wanted to share my experience at LSCon 2014 here. Conferences and industry events can either be a big giant bore, or a great opportunity to make connections and learn new information. It’s up to you to decide which approach you want to take; I’ve taken the latter approach for both conferences I’ve attended, and they’ve both been great learning experiences for me.
Learning Solutions is an annual event that showcases new technologies for e-learning delivery. It was an exciting and busy week; I got to participate in the conference in more ways than one. For starters, I manned (womaned?) the Articulate booth at the expo for the full two days alongside some of my awesome Articulate co-workers. I also had the opportunity to present a 45-minute stage session (Use Articulate Storyline to Create Engaging Scenarios for E-Learning) which was very well attended. Last but not least, I was a participant in the SolutionsFest e-learning demo exhibition where I shared an e-learning project I created featuring the Articulate Weekly E-Learning Challenge. On top of that, I got to meet so many familiar faces that I’ve been chatting with through social media for years (I’m talking to you Patti Shank, Tim Slade and Mark Sheppard!). Needless to say, it was a busy and engaging event for me!
I am writing about this conference because despite the fact that industry-type events can get a reputation for being dry or boring, I really think that these types of conferences are a great life experience for young professionals like me who have so much to see and learn. There are so many new learning experiences involved in attending an event or conference: the travel, the professional development, the socializing.
Here’s a few simple tips, based on my personal experience, that work well for making the most of your next event.
Participate In The Event
The best way to get the most out of a conference is to participate in it. For LSCon 2014 I was lucky because, since I work for Articulate (who was a sponsor of the event) I got to attend on their behalf and I got to present on the stage on their behalf. However, in the past, I’ve also submitted my own ideas for sessions and I have been accepted and presented as an individual. One of the benefits of participating in the event is the often speakers and presenters get to attend the conference for free or at a discounted rate. Some of the big events can be quite pricey, and when you factor in travel and hotel costs, being accepted as a speaker can determine whether or not some individuals attend the conference at all.
This has been the case for me in the past. In 2012, I was encouraged by one of my mentors to attend DevLearn, and I was eager to attend my first conference and find out what it was all about. My boss at the time told me I could go to the conference, but only if I was accepted as a speaker and my Registration costs were covered. So I submitted three session ideas and one of them was selected (Training Needs Analysis: Would You Like Fries With That Training?). I was SO excited when I got the e-mail. That’s how I got to attend my first ever conference, DevLearn 2012 in Las Vegas. So if you can find any way to participate, whether it’s presenting a session, sharing a case study or example, or even co-presenting with someone else, try to do it. Presenting is also a nice way to gain exposure, gain credibility and expertise, and get practice with public speaking.
Network and Meet New People
I think a lot of people make the mistake of milling around the conference alone, or sticking with their friends or co-workers, and not taking the opportunity to make new connections. Sure you might feel a bit awkward the first few times you introduce yourself to someone brand new, but others won’t think you’re weird: this is a normal part of being at a conference! Most people attending these events, in my experience, will have their business cards at the ready and will be happy to share what they do for a living and why they are attending.
If you’re a bit shy or nervous about meeting new people, here’s a good way to help break the ice: use social media to your advantage! It’s easy to use social media to get to know people in your industry ahead of time through channels such as Twitter, the Articulate community forums, or LinkedIn. This way, when it comes time to meet some of these connections at an event, it’s less intimidating because you already feel like you know them. When I attended DevLearn, I used Twitter and the conference hash-tag to meet up with a group of other attendees who were there solo and we all went out for dinner and drinks as a group and had a great time!
Find Out What’s New
An industry conference or event is a great learning opportunity and a chance to get some insights into what the next “big thing” in your industry will be all about. Take this as a chance to identify new trends and technologies that are relevant to you and your job, and that you should know about. Be pro-active about your learning and career development; before you attend, look over the schedule and identify the sessions that you’re interested in attending.
Here’s a tip: try going to sessions that you don’t know anything about or that will teach you something brand new, instead of sticking to what’s familiar and what you’re already comfortable with. Challenge yourself!
Those are three tips I’ve learned through personal experience for making the most of business conferences, trade shows and industry events. One last thing: I really think having a positive approach and optimistic outlook is a key part of the equation. We all know about self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe you will learn new things and make new connections, chances are, you probably will!
Do you have any tips or experiences about a conference or event you’ve attended that you’d be willing to share? If so, please leave a comment! And since you’ve made it all the way to the end of this article, perhaps you should subscribe to my blog!