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.
This week’s guest is Catherine Lombardozzi, founder of Learning for Learning Professionals and instructor of the Guild Academy course Learning Ecosystems: Designing Environments for Learning.
What you do: I have a consulting practice, and the firm’s name is what I do: Learning 4 Learning Professionals. I love consulting with learning leaders, coaching front line professionals, and devising workshops and development activities for folks who support learning in the workplace and in academic settings. My days are filled with facilitating online graduate courses, designing and developing workshops and other learning activities, writing (blog posts, articles, and an e-book) – and learning.
Where you do what you do: I am based in Wilmington, Delaware, and often do my work online with folks around the world (which I still find kind-of cool for a person that probably won’t actually get to many of the places that I’m reaching in this lifetime).
Something most people don’t know about you: My family and friends enjoy coming to my house to play games – I have a collection of over 100 games – none with batteries. My favorites are Qwirkle and Rummikub. I’m not very competitive, though – I don’t really care who wins; I just like the fun of it!
One word that describes why you attend conferences: Inspiration
Besides the conference-provided materials, what types of things do you carry in your conference bag?
My iPad and stylus (indispensable), mints, water bottle and flavoring packets, my conference schedule on one sheet of paper (I don’t carry a smart phone, and a paper schedule is easier to fish out for a quick look than the iPad is), business cards, thumb drive with my conference presentation materials (back up in case my equipment doesn’t work and can’t get access to Dropbox).
What types of things do you do BEFORE a conference to plan and get more out of the experience?
I always organize my schedule before I arrive, planning which sessions I’ll attend (along with second choices in case my first choice is “sold out” or not quite what I had expected). I check to see if there are others I know who will be there and try to organize meet-up plans. I also try to plan R&R time, looking for specific museums, parks, or other sights to see during down time before or after the conference.
Plus, I get a lot of personal returns in preparing for my conference presentations – focusing on what attendees might want to hear, solidifying my ideas so they can be more effectively communicated, and anticipating questions and challenges.
What about AFTER a conference? What do you do to keep the learning going after the conference ends?
I keep a running “follow up” list during the conference to keep track of all the to-do’s that excite me in those ah-ha moments during the conference. I’ll often write a blog post as well, just to give myself the opportunity to process some of those insights a little more.
The questions and comments I get on my conference presentations often influence tweaks in how I think about those ideas in the future, and so I change wording and graphics to reflect emerging understanding. Often, I’ll have people to contact as well, and getting engaged with those folks also extends the learning.
What apps/tools/resources help you get the most out of a conference? (It doesn’t have to be technology)
Notabilty – I am a big note-taker, and used to carry a small notebook to conferences. But now I just love the Notability app I use to keep track of notes – I can handwrite notes using a stylus (which I prefer over trying to type), and the note pages become PDF documents that I can then store as I wish when the conference is over.
Business cards – I take people’s business cards and write notes on them to remind me about specific follow up – the information will get stored in my contacts after the conference. I also have “reverse business cards” – a business-card size form folks can use to give me their contact info when they don’t have any of their own cards handy. And I’m pretty generous with giving folks my card so they can follow up with me as well.
Curious mind – I try to strike up conversations to learn about people’s background and work projects. It’s always fascinating to me to hear about what other folks are doing.
When traveling to and from a conference, how do you pass the time?
Because I travel by train, often overnight in a sleeping compartment, I get a lot of concentrated quiet time for projects during my travel time. In the week before the conference, I make a short list of what I hope to accomplish during travel time, so I have all the materials I need. When I’m not working, I like to read, and having an iPad for reading materials has greatly reduced the weight of my luggage! (I don’t usually read on the iPad, but I do when I travel.)
What’s the most important thing you look to take away from a conference experience?
In 2007, several challenging conversations in and between sessions at an eLearning Guild conference got my head spinning about how our work in learning and development was changing. I realized that a good instructional design model was no longer enough, that we needed a model for designing more diverse learning environments. In trying to sort out what those changes might mean, I developed a learning environment design framework which has served me well in the years since by expanding my thinking about the kinds of strategies that can be incorporated in addition to (or instead of) training. Now I often share the model in conferences, courses, and workshops.
What topics are you most interested in right now?
I’m interested in how folks are incorporating all kinds of learning strategies rather than relying only on training strategies to support capability development in their organizations – I enjoy seeing how people integrate social, informal, experiential, and self-directed learning in their work. I’m also interested in how folks talk about applying research and theory in their work – evidence-based practice, scholarly practice, and the science of learning are all getting more attention these days, but none of these are easy to apply, and I want to hear about strategies and challenges.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone attending a conference for the first time, what would it be?
Conferences can be overwhelming, so it’s usually helpful to go in with a plan. Consider what you want to learn, and try to align your session selections for that goal. When you plan your schedule, always have a back-up session lined up. That way, if your first choice seems no longer right for some reason, you can quickly find your way to another session without having to study the conference guide in the hall. And make it a point to speak to fellow attendees while you are waiting for sessions to begin; you can learn a lot from them as well.
Anything else you’d like to share?
One piece of advice: When you get to go to a conference, consider how you might pay it forward. How can you share what you’ve learned and its implications on your work? For example, you might chat with colleagues over lunch, make a presentation to your team, or write an email or blog post – and these activities will ensure that you engage and implement the ideas you were so excited about at 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.