If you’ve been in the workforce for any amount of time, more than likely you’ve been to some sort of work-related, multi-day conference or seminar. I’m fortunate to work for a company that values continuing education, which means a budgeted amount each year is set aside for staff training. I’ve been to a bunch of these conferences, from one day to week long events. Some were really well done while others I think I would rather have saved the company some money by not going at all. This past conference was a three day event in Orlando, Florida.
I enjoyed the conference and learned a lot. Here are some of my post-conference observations (which could be said of any other events I’ve attended in the past):
You are not as smart or experienced as you think: I think of this as the big fish in the little pond. In your own world, you might be the top dog. The go to guy. Then you go to one of these conferences and reality hits. You meet peers and presenters that have an alphabet string of education and certification acronyms next to their name. You saved your company a few thousand dollars and the guy next to you at lunch did something to save his company a few million dollars. Meeting other people from around the country (or world) with a load of accomplishments and accolades can be a humbling experience.
You are smarter and more experienced than you think: I was sitting at this table next to a woman who just started her own consulting company. She was talking about a class she had just taken having to do with giving expert testimony in court. She asked me if I ever had to ever testify in court. When I said yes, the whole table stopped to listen like those old EF Hutton commercials. Something I assumed a lot of people had done (at this particular conference) was actually the opposite. People wanted to learn something from me. So don’t discount your skills or experience as being inferior either. You always have something of value to someone.
Take advantage and don’t take advantage: During class, I looked outside the window and noticed a bunch of people lounging outside, smoking and laying out. This was during class time. We’re not children anymore. There’s no bell to let you know when to get to class and when to go to lunch. With that said, your company spends a lot of money on these conferences. The least you can do is attend and learn something. Yes it’s hard to sit still for several hours, but the reason you’re there is to bring something back to help you and the company. Don’t waste it by smoking the time away.
At the same time, there are great perks to attending these conferences. Incorporate a family vacation, go see some local sights, eat at different restaurants. This is one aspect of training seminars away from home that I really appreciate. If you can get away and learn something too, it’s a win-win for you.
Target your learning: Usually conferences have “tracks” or multiple sessions. If so, take the classes that are going to be of value and interest. Find a speaker that you really want to hear or has an interesting story. If there’s a topic you or your company is struggling in, take that class and bring something back. Don’t take something just because it’s the current hot topic. Be deliberate and know why you’re attending a particular class.
Limit your comments: A pet peeve of mine relating to my first observation. It never fails that someone in the class will be Mr. Know-it-all (“In my experience…”) or Mrs. Disagreement (“That’s not how we do it at our company.”) There’s nothing more awkward than to watch a presenter’s face cringe when an audience member starts a monologue or becomes borderline combative. Look, we get it. You’re smart. You’re experienced. But no one wants to hear how smart and experienced you are. If you want to share something, get in and get out. Don’t make the rest of us suffer.
What are some of your work conference experiences?