Conferences: The What? So What? Now What?

I don’t know about you but I get excited when I am getting ready to attend a conference. The opportunity to get out of the day-to-day work and enjoy the company of colleagues from different parts of the country. I know I attend conferences for professional development, to learn, to gain new skills, and to network. Why do you go to conferences or workshops?

Once I leave a conference or a workshop it is back to emails, meetings and emergencies but what about everything you just learned? In the post below I will go through – The What? So What? Now What? of attending a conference or presentation.

The What?

Write down what conference, workshop or presentation you attended. If is was a conference, what individual programs did you attend? Include titles and even descriptions of the program. What was the theme of the conference or workshop day?

For example, in November 2012 hundreds of college residence hall students from all across the intermountain region of the United States descended upon beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico for IACURH 2012 with the theme Unlimited Potential, Unlimited Possibilities and hosted by the University of New Mexico. There were many program sessions to attend.

So What?

It is important for those who attend conferences like IACURH to think intentionally about their experience for a variety of reasons.

1. Skill development – the annual IACURH conference is put on by the students, for the students, to benefit themselves and other students. It is a learned skill to plan and execute a conference (and UNM did a wonderful job), to select and coordinate a delegation, and to examine how to improve your own professional development by deciding what sessions to attend.

2. Networking – whether it’s meeting new people or reconnecting with old friends. It is a time of getting together and meeting others who have a similar interest to you or are in the same field.

Now What?

So you heard about this conference/workshop/presentation, you attended, and now your back at school or work. Now what?While at the conference you spent all of this time, probably some money, and don’t get nearly enough sleep. It is up to you to make this and every conference you attend worth your time, money, and energy. Well, one of the best things you can do is reflect and act.

Reflect upon your experience. Don’t know how you say. Well, set aside some time the week after the event. Look on your calendar and find just one hour to spend thinking about the conference. During the time you have scheduled answer the below questions. It is a must that you write down your answers because it will help with the reflection process.

· How did you feel about your experience?

· What did you like about the conference?

· List all of the programs you went to and something you learned. Even if you didn’t like the session, what was at least one thing you learned?

· For each session, think and write down what you could bring back to your campus or office (i.e. is it a program you can replicate, an idea of how to run your organization differently)

· List those who you met that impacted you. Why did they have this impact on you? Can you follow up with them and ask any additional questions you have? Consider these answers and you can apply them to yourself.

Act because now is better than later and everything is still fresh in your mind. Take your notes from the above questions and turn them into action items or goals for yourself. That program that you saw and you were so excited to bring it back to campus or your office, it is now time to plan and implement it. That person that impacted you – it is time to learn that skill or pass on whatever they did for you. Write these action items and goals down and set deadlines.

Taking the time to reflect and act upon your experiences at programs will make your time at the conference worth your time, money, and energy and it won’t just be a conference you attended it will be a conference you experienced!

What is the best advice you have for anyone after they attend a conference?