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Lessons that this week’s DevLearn attendees can take away from a disastrous election night party

My birthday is in early November and every four years we host a birthday/election night party at our house. It was a lot of fun in 2008 and 2012. This year? Worst. Party. Ever. Perhaps the worst party in the history of humankind.


For my birthday this year, life gave me lemons. What follows is my attempt at lemonade.  

As I reflected on the evening, I thought about a number of parallels between things that happened at my party and things that happen at an industry conference. If you’re headed to DevLearn this week, here are five things you might be able to take away from my birthday party experience from last week:

  1. Even poor content can still educate. Watching the election returns roll in, I certainly wasn’t getting the results I wanted to see. At the same time, sitting on the floor in front of the tv was my daughter and a classmate, taking notes and coloring in states red or blue as a part of their homework. They were still learning. The same can happen in a session that is poorly presented (ahem, presenters who lecture and rely too much on PowerPoint). Even though the content may not be exactly what you want, and even though some presenters may not fully embrace sound adult learning principles, there may still be something to learn in a session you’re attending. Try not to let poor presentation skills or content that wasn’t quite what you were expecting get in the way of your opportunity to learn something new.
  2. Pay attention to social media. As I desperately scoured other news websites as well as social media, I knew Tuesday night was going to end poorly when I noticed that someone’s Facebook status was: So-and-so is watching Gilmore Girls. People had begun to accept their fate and had begun to change the channel in order to find a happier place. When it comes to conferences, sometimes the best tips come through the conference’s Twitter hashtag or the conference app. If you’re five minutes into a session and it’s not meeting your expectations, take a quick peek at the app or the Twitter feed and see if other people are posting photos or raving about a different session.
  3. Don’t buy into bad data. I can’t tell you how many people looked on with horror on Tuesday evening as the New York Times election tracker dropped the odds of Hillary Clinton’s victory from 85% to 55% to below 5%. One of our party attendees (who works at Microsoft) tried to give us hope by telling us that Bing was predicting an 85% chance of a Clinton victory even after Florida and North Carolina were called for Trump. Don’t let your presenters this week get away with flashing impressive looking stats across their PowerPoint decks without understanding a little more about the source or the methodology. Are the stats you’re seeing in your presentations based upon real studies, or are they coming from voluntary surveys that have little scientific rigor?
  4. Talk to strangers. One of my former co-workers who is currently in the market for a new job happened to bump into my brother-in-law at the party and my brother-in-law told him about a job that’s open and that fits his skill set right now. Another friend who works at also had some job leads. Whether you’re looking for your own job leads or just looking to learn how other people are taking on challenges to things you may also be facing, one of the most valuable aspects of a conference experience is the opportunity to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to meet. Talk to people at lunchtime, talk to some vendors with some cool products in the exhibit hall, talk to some of the participants in the DemoFest, exchange business cards with a presenter who really impressed you. And then follow-up with them after the conference.
  5. Drinking can make it better. On Tuesday night, where was the merit in being sober? As for transferable lessons for folks attending DevLearn in Vegas… you’re in Vegas. Have fun.

Are you in Las Vegas for DevLearn this week? I’d love to hear how the conference is going – be sure to drop a line in the comment section!


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