You might have noticed that we recently announced the programs for the 2020 Learning Solutions and Realities360 conferences. Didn’t see the announcement videos? Well, here you go! I’ll just… go somewhere else while you browse these so I don’t have to watch myself on-screen again.
You’re done? Great. Now I’m back.
These announcements got me thinking. There are so many fantastic conference options out there, all a bit different but all possibly a fit for some people’s needs. So how can you figure out which events are going to be the best for your needs?
Here are a few tips that have helped me make my decisions over the years.
Ask yourself what you need from a conference right now
We all need different things at different parts of our career. Maybe you’re just getting started in L&D and you’re looking to build some foundational skills? Perhaps your organization or client has a new and tricky problem that you want to investigate options for solving? Possibly you’re feeling a bit stagnant and want to explore new approaches and mediums that can shake things up for you?
Regardless of the specifics, starting out by identifying a few key things you’re hoping to get from an event is a good way to begin narrowing down your choices.
Check out the session options
There’s a reason the program announcements got me thinking about this topic – the sessions are often the easiest place to get a read on what the conference has to offer you, so once most of the sessions are live go give them a browse.
Are there lots of session topics and speakers that pique your interest? Is there content that helps you meet your goals from the last question? Are there sessions on topics you don’t know much about but are intrigued enough to take a chance on? While the sessions aren’t the only part of a conference that should sway your decision, they do give you a sense of the focus of the event.
What can you infer from what ISN’T on the program?
The other thing that can tell you about the focus of a conference is what isn’t on the program. Our field is quite broad, so it’s pretty much impossible for our industry events to be all things to all people. And that’s okay. But it does mean that you’ll want to check to see if you’re likely the target audience for a conference you’re considering. For instance, if the goal you’re most focused on is building your in-person facilitation skills but the program doesn’t have anything on classroom training, it could be a fabulous conference but may not be right for you at the moment.
What other activities will be happening there?
Sessions are often the core of a L&D event, but most have even more to offer… and those options could help sway your decision. Are there keynotes that interest you? Vendors you want to check out? Opportunities that can help you meet new people in the industry? Options for getting hands on with tech you’re intrigued by? Activities that you’ve never seen anywhere else and sound amusing? These things can add a lot to the value you get from attending, so be sure to include them in your decision making.
Talk to people who have been there
The conference website can tell you a lot about the activities and content to expect. But for getting a sense of what it’s like to actually be an attendee, the best source for information is other people who have been there before. Every event has its own feel, so it can be incredibly helpful to chat with a few past attendees who can give you a sense of what it’s like at the conferences you’re considering.
Don’t know anyone who’s been before? Using social media and the conference hashtag can often connect you to some friendly people who are up for chatting about their thoughts on the event in question.
Reach out to the conference organizers
You can also often go straight to the source. I’ve talked with a number of people over the years to help them figure out if an eLearning Guild conference is right for what they’re looking for at the moment. Sometimes it is, and the conversation can help reassure them that they’re making the right choice. And sometimes it isn’t, and I’ll be honest with them and help them consider other options for their particular needs.
I can’t speak for every conference organizer, but of the ones I know none of us want our attendees to feel disappointed or regret coming. So try reaching out the the event you’re considering and see if anyone on staff can answer the questions you have about it.
So those are the approaches I use to gauge if a conference might suit my needs. What other approaches do you find helpful?