What’s in Your Conference Bag? – Tracy Parish

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.

tracyThis week’s guest is Tracy Parish, education technology specialist for Southlake Regional Health Centre.

What you do: I design and deliver a wide variety of online instructional courses. These courses range from those that are clinically specific for certain health care professions to others that are for every staff member and still others that are for the public. Additionally to this I am the implementer and administrator for our learning management system.

Where you do what you do: I work at a Regional Healthcare Centre in Newmarket, Ontario with 3500+ staff, 500+ physicians, and 900+ volunteers.

Something most people don’t know about you: I was once a member of an improv troupe for several years.

One word that describes why you attend conferences: Discovery

Besides the conference-provided materials, what types of things do you carry in your conference bag?
iPad, iPhone, portable charger, charging cables, pens, stylus, 2 highlighters, gum, notebook, camera (but my iphone covers that mostly now), water, a snack, business cards. A second copy of the conference session descriptions (I always seem to lose the first one). I like to keep it as light and portable as possible because I’ll be carrying it all day.

What types of things do you do BEFORE a conference to plan and get more out of the experience?
I prefer to look through the website to get a general feel of the topics/trends/tracks of information that is going to be presented. More importantly to me is to take some serious time to go through the paper version of the conference sessions. Yes, I said paper. The reason for this is I see it quickly all in one place the session descriptions and I tend to then flip back and forth through the package making notes and ranking the sessions I want to see during each time slot. I then take my first choices and put them into my calendar app and sometimes into the conference app so I know where I want to be heading during each ‘room change’. The ranking of sessions, and usually I only pick 2 to 3 for each time slot, allows me to quickly move to another session if a previous session/speaker/peer has lead me to want to learn about a different track and/or if the session I first sit in is not quite delivering what I expected or needed.

I also keep an eye out on my PLN to see who is mentioning that they are attending and if they are looking to network during or after the conference. These times are key for me in learning and exploring new ideas and getting feedback on pieces I am currently working on. They are also some of the best ways to meet and grow and develop my PLN.

What about AFTER a conference? What do you do to keep the learning going after the conference ends?
I try to read blog posts regarding other attendees experiences. I look at the presentations that are made available by presenters that I didn’t get a chance to see. I ensure I connect with the folks I met during the conference and add them into my various media channels to keep in touch and see what they are learning and sharing. I review my own notes and postings to compile together what I learned and discovered during the conference. I use these to report back to my team the key points that were inspirational and where ideas can be applied. I sometimes am able to categorize them into when/where I might be able to use the various discoveries going forward with my own projects.

What apps/tools/resources help you get the most out of a conference? (It doesn’t have to be technology)
There are several must haves for me. I use Twitter to keep in touch with other presenters and conference attendees. This help you to know what presentations they are going to and which they are enjoying and finding beneficial. It also opens a wide network of links and resources that they are collecting throughout the conference. I typically use my iPad to take notes. Sometimes I use just a basic word processing app to capture the notes and then transfer them to my website/blog. Other times I will just directly post into my WordPress app. I’ve also used CoverIt Live in the past for note capturing. Lately with trying to do more sketchnoting I use Sketchbook Pro with my Jot stylus. Just maybe try out my new iSketchnote soon as well.

A calendar app is essential, if I get my sessions planned out ahead of time. I like to use it because my app will just pop up a notification of which room I need to move to next and at what time. Either the Conference app or the conference program must be at hand if one needs to change sessions or decide which will be next throughout the day.

A conference map!!! I love this feature in conference apps as it seems to be one of the quickest ways to navigate yourself through a convention hall.
Always a few sheets of paper and pens. When all else fails, they always work for note taking, idea brainstorming, activity planning.

When traveling to and from a conference, how do you pass the time?
At the airport I’ll read usually looking through Twitter and Zite, occasionally at an ebook. On the plane I’m watching movies, unwind and down time….and it’s easier on those prone to motion sickness.

Picture1What’s the most important thing you look to take away from a conference experience?
For me it is all about new ideas, new methods, new process of doing things maybe that I am already working on or want to begin to try out. Sometimes this comes from the presentations themselves, often they come more from networking with peers, meeting new colleagues, and speaking directly with the presenters.

What topics are you most interested in right now?
I wish we, as an organization, were moving towards more wearable tech. I think it is fascinating what can be achieved and will be interested to see where it takes us with “simplify” and “quantifying” our daily lives. I also am very intrigued to see what happens with 3D printing. It appears the possibilities are endless and that is very exciting, yet scary at the very same time.

Of course some of the technologies involved in setting this up have moved on since then, and my current expectations are even higher, yet I continue to be disappointed that the emergence of awesome that I am looking for is still ‘just around the corner’.

You’ve also been a speaker at conferences – What was it that first motivated you to speak at a conference?
I love learning and I love sharing what I have learned. There is great satisfaction in helping others and for me learning/teaching/training/educating is about inspiring just one other person to do or look at something differently. It is certainly much more rewarding when you can inspire a whole room though.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone attending a conference for the first time, what would it be?
Break out of your comfort zone. Push yourself to go see listen to presenters/topics you might not initially think are your first choice. By this I mean, often we go because we have a set goal we “must learn about”. Example: We need to know about LMS implementation. The trouble with this is you really limit yourself to the hundreds of other amazing topics and ideas that are out there.
Push yourself to meet new people and just say hello. You will be amazed at who you meet by pushing yourself past your comfort zone. Many if not most of the attendees are there because they are just like you, doing the same stuff you do, and are struggling with the same issues you are struggling with daily. Take the time to introduce yourself and you might be surprised how large your network of peers/resources grows.

If you were to give a new attendee one task to complete that would define conference success, what would it be?
For me a successful conference experience depends largely on the current situation that I am having issues or struggling with prior to attending. If I have a specific issue that I just can’t solve or need a new approach to, then finding and leaving with at least the inspiration or a more focused approach solving that issue is a success. On the other hand, if I come to the conference with no real issues regarding current projects, then leaving with several new contacts for my network is a success. This gives me a wider PLN to explore and look for help and information when an issue does come up. Then finally; if I am attending because I need to know about “X” and I can find several different presenters speaking about “X” from different points of view, that would be a measure of success.

Does your employer financially support your attendance at a conference? If yes, how did you persuade your boss to approve you attending?
They have in the past when times budgets were larger, but even so creating a business case was the best received by upper management. I needed to ensure that I included what my goal for attending was in relation to my current work and that of the organization future aspirations. I included a list of comparative conferences, where they were available (local and international), cost, etc. and then the rationale for why this particular one was the best choice. I also included all expected costs so that they could understand the finances involved when making a decision. Finally, I found some well known leaders in the industry and asked them for quotes on why they recommended “this conference” over “that one”.

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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