Connections: A Critical Conference Takeaway

I love attending industry conferences. The ability to spend a few days immersed in a topic, learning from experts and building new skills that I can use in my work is an opportunity I am always grateful to have.

When I consider attending an event there are a number of factors I consider. I look at the keynote speakers and the concurrent sessions to see what types of topics are being covered. I look at the availability of pre-conference workshops to see if there’s any topics that I can take a deeper-dive into to enhance my skill set. I look at the additional programming options to consider what makes one event unique when compared against others.

All of these factors, and others, are important to me. There’s one factor I haven’t mentioned yet that is becoming increasingly important to me when I look at attending an event:

Who is attending this event?

solutionfest-1If I could sum all of my goals for attending a conference into a single, simple statement, it would be this: To enhance my knowledge and skills. The content of an event is a huge and essential part of that goal. The challenge is that events only last a few days, and I like to continuously develop myself. That’s why networking is so critical at conferences; it’s the connections you make with peers that stay with you between each event you attend, supporting you as you apply new skills and continue to learn and grow.

Some of the most powerful learning moments I have had at conferences have taken place between sessions, during spontaneous hallway conversations with peers. These intimate sharing opportunities are very powerful, and the relationships that are formed can become an ongoing resource of learning, creativity, and yes, even friendship.

That’s why more and more I look at events and consider who the audience is. My favorite events to attend are ones where I will have access to peers – people that I can learn from and who can learn from me.

When I was in Director roles, leading the learning function at an organization, it was sometimes challenging to find peers to connect with at an event. Many learning industry events cater to trainers, designers, and developers; quite often the management sessions were a much smaller percentage of a larger event. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. These are great events; they just didn’t naturally support my desire to connect with other senior learning leaders who were facing the same challenges I was.

That’s one of the reasons I’m really excited for our new event, Ecosystem 2014. This event deals specifically with the challenges faced by senior learning leaders in today’s digital world. The attendees of Ecosystem 2014 will be senior leaders that are facing the challenge of building a single learning strategy that supports complex learning and performance needs, utilizing an ever-expanding array of technologies. Being able to attend an event where EVERYONE attending is facing the same challenges you are is enormously powerful, and sets the stage for connections that will follow and support your growth as an ongoing resource after the conference ends.

I recall years ago bringing my team to an event three years in a row that was effective for their professional development, but did little for me personally. That’s another reason I’m excited for Ecosystem 2014. The conference is co-located with the annual Learning Solutions Conference and Expo, which in addition to providing content for managers, also supports instructional designers, developers, and other roles in the training and learning field. Having both events taking place in the same location at the same time creates an excellent opportunity for learning leaders to support their teams professional development while satisfying their own at the same time.

Obviously I’m partial to the great events we conduct at The eLearning Guild, and I do recommend you consider attending Ecosystem 2014 and / or the Learning Solutions Conference and Expo. That aside, the value of considering who is attending an event applies to any event you consider attending. The connections you make at a conference can provide year-round development, so be sure to look for an event in which you will be able to connect with like-minded peers you can learn with.


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