These are strange times we’re living in. Who knows when many of us will return to our old offices (if we ever do… some claim that physical office space may become obsolete by the end of this whole quarantine). Who knows when we’ll be able to connect with old co-workers around the water cooler. Who knows when we’ll next stop by someone’s cubicle to bounce an idea around.
Physical distancing means that in-person connections will naturally fade. In the world of learning and development professionals, these connections have often been the lifeblood of new and creative ideas.
So what’s an L&D person to do?
If you’re not yet a member of your local ATD chapter, this could be a really good time to consider it. Here are five reasons why:
Connections to other local L&D professionals
In addition to my national ATD membership, I’ve been a member of ATD Puget Sound for almost a decade and this might be the biggest member benefit to me.
I’ve always worked at small organizations with small training teams. Having monthly opportunities to connect in a structured, meaningful way with other local L&D professionals has led to a number of coffee conversations (in-person and virtual), opportunities to speak (which I’ll talk about in just a moment) and even a job offer (which I’ll also talk about in a moment).
Programming led by other local L&D folks
Attending a large industry conference can be expensive (registration, airfare, lodging, meals, Lyft rides, etc). My local ATD chapter offers formal workshops and informal networking opportunities that often have a facilitated portion, on a monthly basis.
The programming is inexpensive (!!!), high quality and allows me to see what other L&D professionals and their organizations in the Seattle-area are doing.
Opportunities to take on responsibilities that your (current) employer may never give to you
Since local ATD chapters are volunteer-run, there are a lot of opportunities to engage in a challenge you may never have had the opportunity to take on before.
The first time I volunteered for my local chapter, I may have bitten off more than I could chew. I was tasked with putting together a 200-person event that would draw not only on local ATD chapter members, but members of other related local professional associations in the fields of organization development, human resources and coaching. I learned a lot about speaker recruitment, volunteer management, event planning and simply working with people who had competing interests.
I now serve as the president of our local ATD chapter. While I’ve led teams and organizations before, the structure of our ATD chapter is different than any other team or organization I’ve led, which has offered me new challenges and insights on how to be a better leader.
If your future career path includes responsibilities in marketing, supervising others, mobilizing people you don’t directly supervise, increased financial and budgeting responsibilities or leading people or programs, there’s probably a volunteer opportunity waiting for you.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know
It had been a while since I had attended a local chapter event. When I finally returned to a monthly member meeting, I had a chance to meet several new people, including one woman who led the University of Washington’s continuing education programs that revolved around learning and development.
Several days later I noticed that the University of Washington was looking for instructors for a new certificate program in learning and development, and guess who was leading the interview process?
Once you plug into the local learning and development scene, you’ll probably realize just how small of a world it is. If you’re on the hunt for new professional opportunities, keep in mind the old adage that who you know is more important than what you know.
Hone those speaking skills
Not only are local ATD chapters volunteer-run, but they also depend on volunteers to share fresh voices and news ideas with their members.
I’ve had the opportunity to present at our local chapter’s annual conference and several years ago I even had the opportunity to emcee the conference.
Not only is presenting to local L&D professionals an opportunity to hone your craft as a speaker to a new audience, but it’s also an opportunity to make a contribution to the field of learning and development overall. As a colleague once told me: The only thing missing from the learning and development field is what you don’t share.
If you’ve been a member of your local ATD chapter and have found other value and opportunities in your membership, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment section!