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.
To kick things off, I’ll share my own answers.
First, a little about me…
What you do: I’m the Program Director for The eLearning Guild. I plan and program the eLearning Guild’s face-to-face conferences.
Where you do what you do: I work mostly from home, on Long Island outside New York City.
Something most people don’t know about you: I spent a summer running a karaoke show at a local bar. Good times.
One word that describes why you attend conferences: Growth
Besides the conference-provided materials, what types of things do you carry in your conference bag?
- My iPad with a Logitech Slim Cover – Between tweeting, taking notes, managing social media feeds, blogging, and curating conference backchannels, I’m typing for one reason or another pretty often at a conference. While I love my iPad, I just wasn’t as effective typing on the screen keyboard as I was on a laptop. The Logitech slim cover changed that. It’s slim enough to not add bulk, yet “feels” like a real keyboard. It’s what finally enabled me to leave the laptop behind.
- My Evernote Moleskine – I use Evernote for almost everything, and this moleskine is great for digitizing hand-written notes.
- Belkin Travel Powerstrip – This is a lifesaver when I attend conferences. While at the conferences and traveling, I never have to worry about finding an available outlet. I just find an outlet, ask the person using it to share, and start charging. It’s also great for the hotel rooms, which never seem to have enough sockets for all the electronics I bring with me.
- New Trent USB Battery Charger – Much as I love my power strip, I don’t need to use it often. For the most part, this portable charger keeps both my phone and iPad powered no matter how much I use them.
What types of things do you do BEFORE a conference to plan and get more out of the experience?
I always look through the program guides to decide which sessions I want to attend. The first few conferences I attended I didn’t do that, and it felt like playing catch-up the whole time. I also start following and participating in the conference backchannel on Twitter before the conference, as it’s a great way to connect with other attendees before the conference even starts. If I’m going to meet with people while at the conference, I try to schedule specific times to do so. Lastly, I always look at the special programming options the event is holding, as those are often some of the best parts of the event.
What about AFTER a conference? What do you do to keep the learning going after the conference ends?
I have a fairly active personal blog, and one of the things I like to do is write posts that reflect on the conference. Not only does it reinforce the content itself, but the writing helps me build context to how I might be able to use the new information in my current role. I also use social media to keep in touch with people I met at the conference, as those relationships are a continuous source of learning.
What apps/tools/resources help you get the most out of a conference? (It doesn’t have to be technology)
- My phone camera – I take a lot of pictures at conferences. Many of them are just that, pictures documenting the experience. But I also use the camera as a productivity tool. As an example, if someone gives me a business card, I rarely keep it any more. I right down on the card why I connected with the person and take a photo of the card. Later on, when I have more time, I can export that photo to Evernote or a Business Card app. I have lots of little workflows like that for the camera to deal with expenses, notes, and more.
- Twitter – I love expanding the conference experience via Twitter. More often than not, it’s through Twitter that the context around conference presentation content is built.
When traveling to and from a conference, how do you pass the time?
I’m usually using my iPad for one of three things: working, writing or playing games. When I’m returning home from a conference, I’m likely compiling my notes, curating the backchannel, and writing reflective blog posts.
What’s the most important thing you look to take away from a conference experience?
I’m always looking for at least one new thing at a conference. Building on existing skills is great and very valuable, but if I don’t walk away from a conference with at least one new idea or skill to explore that is outside my comfort zone, chances are I haven’t planned my time effectively.
What topics are you most interested in right now?
I’m passionate about curation and it’s potential as a tool for learning. I’m also very interested in the new technologies that expand the definition of “mobile” and how they can be used for learning.
You’ve also been a speaker at conferences – What was it that first motivated you to speak at a conference?
For me it’s mostly about giving back to an industry that I love and has given much to me. Plus, I think I my speaking engagements are also some of my most powerful personal learning experiences. Knowing I’m going to speak about a topic forces me to look at it from a different angle.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone attending a conference for the first time, what would it be?
Make connections with other attendees. The sessions at a conference are great, but it’s the ongoing relationships you form with other attendees that will keep the learning going all year long.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’ll take this opportunity to pass along an open invite to the What’s in Your Conference Bag Blog Series. If you’re interested in sharing your tips and participating in the post series, please let me know by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you have ideas for questions that you think would be interesting to add to this series, send them my way.