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How do you get the most out of your conference experience?

FocusOn

This week I’m headed to Austin, TX, to participate in the eLearning Guild’s FocusOn Learning conference. Attending any conference can be a significant investment – either for your organization or, if you’re footing your own bill for professional development opportunities, then it’s a significant investment for yourself.

For example: without any discounts, the FocusOn conference registration is $1,695. Add a couple hundred dollars for the hotel, a couple hundred more dollars for airfare, some more money for meals, local transportation and other expenses, and this could easily run several thousand dollars. That’s before you factor in the cost of your own time.

What’s the best way to ensure there’s some sort of return on this investment? You could simply go with a general idea of what you’re hoping to get out of the conference. Maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for (in general). Maybe not.

One thing I like to do prior to attending a conference is to set “MPV goals”. It stands for “Minimum”, “Primary” and “Visionary” goals. I find that when I set these goals, I’m more focused heading into the conference, and I can easily determine whether the conference was a success for me (and/or whether I’d choose to return to this same conference in the future).

Next week, I’ve set the following goals for myself:

Minimum:

  1. Find five new people to follow on Twitter. Twitter is a place I go to learn about a variety of perspectives from across the L&D field. I’m always looking for new, quality people to follow.
  2. Meet at least three people in-person who I’ve previously only met online. Social media is a great way to expand my network, but at some point, a personal connection – whether over coffee or dinner or just a quick chat in the exhibition hall – can serve to cement those relationships.

Primary:

  1. Identify at least three performance support strategies and/or technologies to integrate into my work. While mobile learning has never been a big part of my organization’s learning strategy, it’s come up in recent conversations, so it’s time to take it more seriously. I want to have at least three potential ideas to bring back to my team and discuss their feasibility when I return to the office.
  2. Have a draft completed for my Online Learning Conference presentation. By a stroke of luck, my co-presenter (Mike Taylor) for a presentation I have coming up in September will also be attending next week’s conference. This goal will also help me meet one of my minimum goals – even though Mike and I submitted a proposal (and had it accepted) to present at a conference this coming September, we’ve never actually met in person!

Visionary:

  1. Find a new project. If my first “Primary” goal comes to fruition, I could well be on my way in creating a new project for myself around a new strategy or implementing a new technology. This could be where the investment in my attending this conference would really pay off  – through increased efficiencies, reduced training costs and/or expanding the number of people our L&D initiatives are able to reach.
  2. See some bats. All work and no play makes for a very myopic conference experience. Apparently, one of Austin’s big tourist attractions is the Congress Avenue Bridge, where 1.5 million bats take flight nightly around sunset. When I attended this conference last year, I took a walk one evening and saw no bats. Maybe it’ll happen for me this year.

It’s one thing to set goals, it’s another thing to hold oneself accountable.Next Monday, I’ll write a follow-up post that offers an update on how I did toward meeting these goals.

How do you get the most out of your conference experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts and practices in the comment section.

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