What’s in Your Conference Bag? – Tom Spiglanin

Welcome to a TWIST Blog Series – What’s in Your Conference Bag? This series explores the various ways people prepare for and get more out of a conference. Each week we’ll feature a new Learning and Development Professional who will answer a series of questions and share his or her personal tips for maximizing a conference experience.

tomsThis week’s guest is Tom Spiglanin, Senior Engineering Specialist for The Aerospace Corporation and author of the Workplace Learning: An Insider’s Perspective blog.

What you do:
I currently manage the development and delivery of almost half of my organization’s technical courses, most of which are instructor-led, face-to-face. I work with Masters and Ph.D. scientists and engineers to create, modify, or update these courses, trying to infuse adult learning theory, instructional design, and more effective teaching methods into the process. While that represents my current assignment, I use that role to also influence a shift in the culture in my organization by challenging the need for each course and help find creative, alternative ways to meet perceived technical knowledge gaps. I am also responsible for capturing a living snapshot of the diverse work of my company in short video segments that are easily updated when needed (work in progress).

Where you do what you do:
Los Angeles (El Segundo), California.

Something most people don’t know about you:
Tricia Ransom tells me I have to go with my Ph.D. in Chemical Physics. It’s on my Twitter profile, but most people don’t know that about me. Do I take that as a compliment or not?

One word that describes why you attend conferences:

Besides the conference-provided materials, what types of things do you carry in your conference bag?
I don’t carry the conference-provided materials at all if I can help it. I typically ditch all of that weight and the bag in my hotel room as soon as possible, which may not be until after midnight on the first conference day. I carry my own bag so it’s easily recognizable by me and not mistakenly picked up by someone else.

Inside are my essential tools: iPad (on conference WiFi) for live tweeting and capturing notes, iPhone (NOT on often-questionable conference WiFi) for backup. Both have the conference app with my intended schedule. Also inside are pens, iPhone and iPad chargers, and my personal business cards with QR codes to share my blog site, email, and twitter handle. I also carry healthy snack bars to get me through days and chewing gum.

What I will be adding before the next conference is a large battery to recharge my mobile devices, which get a real workout during a conference. Shannon Tipton recharged my phone at least twice during the last conference.

What types of things do you do BEFORE a conference to plan and get more out of the experience?
First I download or update the conference app on my mobile devices and then browse the schedule, adding sessions to my agenda during the time before attending the conference. I also reach out to my PLN (personal learning network) to find out who else is attending the conference. It’s exceptionally important to me to meet with my PLN, those I’ve met and those I haven’t.

What about AFTER a conference? What do you do to keep the learning going after the conference ends?
It’s very important for me to write down what I learned and talk about it with people. I do this for my employer, as well as for myself. I try to synthesize how I grew from the experience or can change the way I do things or can influence how thing are done. Since my employer typically supports my conference attendance, I see this as my responsibility to them, but it really helps me as well.

What apps/tools/resources help you get the most out of a conference? (It doesn’t have to be technology)
It’s mostly technology for me: The conference app, Twitter app, Skype app, SMS text messaging. With the exception of the conference app, the rest are mostly to stay in touch with colleagues at the conference and both family and friends at home.

Do you prefer to use a paper program guide for a conference or a dedicated conference app? Why?
Dedicated conference app. I’m awful at looking back at paper notes, so it makes more sense to me to lose the paper earlier, rather than later.

When traveling to and from a conference, how do you pass the time?
I use the opportunity to write blog posts to frame my conference attendance. I’m so busy in the months leading up to the conference that it really gets me in the right frame of mind. I also engage on Twitter with colleagues to coordinate meet-ups and get insight about the conference from those who had already arrived.

Picture1What’s the most important thing you look to take away from a conference experience?
At least one actionable good idea that will make me and/or my organization more effective. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

What topics are you most interested in right now?
Coaching technical experts who serve as trainers, helping them to become better and more innovative trainers. Extending training beyond the classroom. Encouraging others to, “Show their work.” Being a change agent and lead the evolution of workplace learning when a revolutionary approach won’t work.

You’ve also been a speaker at conferences – What was it that first motivated you to speak at a conference?
A large number of people attending conferences are in situations similar to mine, working behind a veil much of the time. Having engaged with a PLN was a career-altering change for me and I realize I have a lot to share.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone attending a conference for the first time, what would it be?
Have an open mind, synthesize new ideas that will improve the work you do, and share those ideas with others at the conference to develop even deeper understanding and possibly modify your thinking.

If you were to give a new attendee one task to complete that would define conference success, what would it be?
Answer these two questions, either by writing the responses down or speaking them out loud as a commitment: What one thing will you now do or do differently as a result of attending this conference? How will others see it, and by when?

Does your employer financially support your attendance at a conference? If yes, how did you persuade your boss to approve you attending?
Yes. I actually struck a deal with her last year that I would attend every conference where I was accepted as a presenter. That became two conferences. This year she asked me to attend a conference with several of my colleagues, which became a tremendous team building opportunity for us.

Anything else you’d like to share?
Conferences are more about people and connections than they are about listening to someone talk. The inspiration and new ideas are great, but the people you meet are a far greater resource if you maintain the connections beyond the conference.

Interested in being a guest for a future “What’s in Your Conference Bag post? Please reach out to David Kelly for details.

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