1. Don’t be afraid to show your ignorance!
My first year at DevLearn was good, but intimidating. There I was an unpublished, small e-learning producer with very little real skill. I hadn’t had the opportunity to produce highly interactive courses on my job, nor the time to produce them just for practice. I was afraid of talking to the “pros” for fear of showing my ignorance and/or inadequacies. I wanted to be around them to listen and learn as they conversed with others, but I didn’t want to speak! It would have been great to be a fly on the wall. What I have since learned is that the “pros” are at these conferences to teach and to share. They enjoy it. And it’s harder to teach someone when the teacher doesn’t know what the student doesn’t know! Follow? You can’t be afraid to ask questions about things that may not be part of your everyday work life.
2. Plan and Research BEFORE the conference.
Before each conference I review the session titles, descriptions, and speakers. If I find something that sounds interesting to me, I then check out the presenter. Google them and search for their LinkedIn page. It’s a good way to learn more about the presenters’ experience PLUS you may discover other common areas of interests, which leads me into #3.
3. Don’t be afraid to meet people (network)!
Again, at my first DevLearn, I was nervous and lacked confidence in my e-learning, instructional designing experience. My idea of a good course, may not be the same as others idea of a good course. I assumed most everyone there was a polished pro who had a big team and worked on e-learning design, development, and production 24/7. What I found was, more often than not, training departments consist of one person who is charged with doing it all. They usually end up making a click-through course out of a boring bulleted PowerPoint. For sake of time and money constraints, they rarely get to alter the content to make it more engaging. In other words, most attendees were just like me!
4. Recap the highlights within two weeks after returning… in writing!
I come back from a conference with great ideas and information in the forefront of my memory. But it doesn’t take long before those ideas fade away. As soon as possible, jot them down, then go back and fill in the gaps with complete sentences. I like to write with enough clarity and detail that I could hand the paper to someone else who didn’t attend the conference and they would find value in the content.
5. Continue to network with your new acquaintances.
Follow your new friends on twitter or linkedin. Keep the conversations going. Keep up with their accomplishments and be an encourager, supporter, and possibly a resource. You never know when you may need them to return the favor.
Remember, just because the conference is over, doesn’t mean the learning has to stop! My current job is not 100% instructional design and development of eLearning courses so I don’t get to practice and hone my skills as much as I would like, but that’s okay. I love the field and love studying what others are doing. Set aside time everyday for professional reading and networking. Feed your brain. Feed your creativity. And most importantly, mark your calendars for the next eLearning Guild Conference!!