1. Approach the Program with a Strategy
Last year, my general approach was benchmarking. I wanted to find out if I was doing the right thing in my lessons and training design. The goal was to walk away with an action plan for improvement. In other words... I was an idea thief.
But the conference did not really live up to my expectations. Or maybe I had surpassed my own expectations. What I learned was that I am actually quite good at this training thing. I enjoy it, I have an approach which blends best practice from various sources, plus it fits my context, my personality, and most importantly, my learners' expectations and needs.
It would be a shame, however, to spend all of the money on travel and accommodation only to hear things I already know. So this year, I have worked out several "needs improvement" categories. When viewing the program, I will focus on those talks which can help shed some light on how to improve. In short, the plan is not to steal ideas, rather use the talks as a spark to generate my own.
For me, the areas of focus this year are:
- Writing better materials (especially for other trainers)
- E-learning (from design to implementation to learner acceptance)
- Broadening my cultural horizons - I teach in a monolingual/monocultural context. I would like to be more flexible.
Sadly, last year I attended several talks which only vaguely resembled the printed descriptions in the program. In some cases, the presenters failed to reach the "ah ha!" moment. It appeared as though they were holding back. I divided these talks into three groups:
- The crucial information the audience wanted was proprietary. "This topic is very useful and important, but if you want to know what it is, buy the book, take the course, etc."
- The speaker was unsure of their own expertise. "I think this is a really effective approach to the topic, but there are a lot of really smart people here and I don't want to say anything wrong so I will just allude to it."
- The speaker tried to accomplish too much in the time slot. "So that is the extensive background to this topic... Oh, I see we are running out of time and I wanted to save some for questions. So, here very quickly is the main point... okay, thanks for coming."
So, what I am looking for are names I have seen on Twitter and in other conferences, but who are not promoting a book/website/course. I am also looking for unknown speakers who are dealing with a very specific issue which might support one of my three goals.
3. Take Time Off and Find a Comfortable Chair
Last year, I came back from Glasgow exhausted. I attended an unbelievable number of sessions, I ate very little, drank too much, stayed up too late, and was generally uncomfortable much of the time. My cheeks hurt from smiling and my ears hurt from intensive listening. I do not want to repeat this performance.
But on the other hand, I will pay a sizable sum to attend the conference and I want to make sure I do not miss something which might repay the cost. In Glasgow, I picked up a few ideas which I then developed and sold, thus recouping the expenditure. However, I plan to take it a little easier this year and come home a bit more refreshed.
4. It's All about the People
For those of us who are active and passionate about professional development, the ideas presented during the sessions are largely available online. Instead of taking copious notes, I will simply keep a Evernote page for the entire conference with topics for later research, links, and people. There is simply too much information during the week to really learn. Instead, I can take my list home and prioritize it while half-watching a reality show on my couch. Most of the presentations, handouts, and the like will be hosted anyway.
This will save my brain cells for getting to know people I have only met online, speaking with the friends I have made (and failed to keep in touch with), and asking lots of questions to lots of really talented and intelligent people. It has been mentioned elsewhere, but the most interesting parts of conferences are truly the short conversations with diverse opinions. In fact, I'm thinking about submitting a proposal for a BESIG workshop in Prague which has no topic. Think of it as conference Dogme... just get a bunch of super-smart people in a room and see what emerges. I wonder if that would be accepted? But perhaps there is someone better to host it...
If you are coming to Liverpool, I would love to meet you. It would be great to grab a drink as well, but we all know how schedules are at conferences. I hope you have a great trip and I'll see you next week.