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Getting the most out of conferences

Leaders should engage in continuous learning, but how do we get the most out of conferences and learning opportunities?

I can’t begin to list the number of excellent speakers I’ve heard over the years and the great motivational and operational information they’ve provided.  And yet, quite often, I’d get back to my desk, have people waiting for me, emails to answer, projects to finish, and all thoughts of the things I’d learned quickly fly away!  So what lessons did I finally learn that helped me get more out of these opportunities?

First of all, when you go to a multi-day conference in particular, email yourself the highlights of what you learned and plan to move forward with while you’re still at the conference.  Leave the email in your inbox until you return to the office.  Set aside time on your first day back, specifically to set up the tools/resources you need to take advantage of what you learned. And DON’T override the time on your schedule (tempting as it may be). 

In addition, plan to present your nuggets to others within the company.  Based on the knowledge, that may be best for your team, your supervisor, your peers or even another department.  But make a plan for that presentation as soon as you return.  That will also help reinforce the knowledge and force you to determine how best to utilize it.

I strongly encourage managers to require this presentation of any staff sent to conferences or other important learning opportunities.  This provides multiple benefits:  it helps ensure the staff member is paying attention and potentially getting something out of the opportunity, it allows them to practice presentation and leadership skills, and it can maximize value by presenting it to staff who weren’t able to attend.  If the staff (or you) get nothing out of the conference, it may be good to know so that you don’t continue to waste money and resources in sending future employees and/or you can find better opportunities.  It may also be that the wrong staff member is going to these conferences if they never seem to learn anythiing. . .

For shorter experiences, like webinars or luncheons that last an hour or two, if there is something that can make your life and/or your teams lives more effective, make that a priority when you get back to “normal.”  It may be best to always schedule out 15-30 minutes after a session so that if there are things to implement (granted, there aren’t always pertinent/life shattering ideas generated), then you have the time to put some thought into action.  If you don’t need the time, you can always remove it from your schedule (or just use it to catch up on the things you’ve been ignoring).

The real “trick” is planning to utilize the knowledge and not just hoping you find the time/energy/means to do something with it.  We spend a lot of resources on these opportunities and many of them are wonderful, but we also need to make sure we’re getting the value out of the experiences, for ourselves, other managers and our teams!

A group of women at a national conference.
Group 42 at the SHRM Conference

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