Gathering More than Notes from Your Professional Conference
Many in the volunteerism world in the U.S. (along with some international colleagues) are preparing for the annual National Conference on Volunteering and Service this June. It got Energize thinking about the best way to get the most out of attending conferences for professional development. Here are some ideas from Energize President Susan J. Ellis for taking a conference above and beyond sitting in workshops and taking notes.
- Review the conference program and plan ahead to use your time well.
- Ask colleagues about the presenters.
- Pick at least one session to attend that you think has nothing to do with your work now!
- Consider what you most want to learn about and what would make this a successful conference for you.
- Look over the list of registrants and get ready to meet people.
- Get some sleep!
- During the conference, answer the following questions for each time slot of each day:
- What did I hear to which I reacted: “Ah, ha!”?
- What did I hear to which I reacted: “That won’t work in my setting”? (Then ask whether you may have judged too quickly.)
- What ONE tangible suggestion or idea can I take back home from this part of the conference?
- Eavesdrop! If people are talking in public spaces, it’s proper conference etiquette to listen and even to join in! How else will you meet new people? Some places/times to eavesdrop:
- At breaks.
- In the restroom.
- In the elevator and hotel halls.
- On the buffet line.
- In the exhibit area.
- During special events and outings.
- Be prepared to exchange business cards to continue conversations after the conference. Make a note on each person’s card about why you want to follow up!
- Visit the exhibit area. It’s your chance to create your own learning:
- Browse books for ideas – even if you don’t buy!
- Don’t be afraid to talk to the exhibitors– they actually know things and you are not required to give them your contact information!
- Meet the people who congregate at the same exhibits that interest you.
- It’s OK to consider the exhibit area an alternative to a workshop.
Afterward, allow yourself time to think about the conference. Make some notes about the following:
- What surprised you here at the conference?
- With whom would you like to stay in touch? (Is there anyone you did not get a chance to meet and might want to contact later anyway?)
- What issues did you hear discussed that will bear watching over the next year?
- What speaking or training technique did you observe a presenter using that you would like to use, too?
- What books and other resources will you consider reading?
- What Internet sites should you (or a “cyber deputy”) visit?
- Which of your colleagues – paid and volunteer – attended this event with you and how can you help one another maintain your enthusiasm when you get home?
- Which of your colleagues (in your agency and otherwise) could not attend and how will you share your experience and learning with them?
- How will you engage the volunteers you lead in reflecting on your new learning?
- How will you report to your top executives what was valuable about attending this event? (And what will you say?)