When I was in college I was the student who took color coded class notes, always had questions and made good use of professor’s office hours. What can I say, I have always loved learning (i.e. been a geek) and because of a childhood ADD diagnosis I had a well structured set of coping mechanisms to ensure I was absorbing everything I could from my education. In the years since leaving the world of formal education and entering the professional training & education industry I have slowly adjusted my set of learning tricks to adapt to the less formal learning opportunities I encounter. I have recently been observing people who attend conferences, webinars, training and presentations and thought perhaps sharing a few of my basic rules of thumb for making the most of an educational opportunity.
- Before the event (conference, keynote address, webinar) identify three things you’d like to take away from the experience. Whether you have a particular question about the event’s focus or simply want to expand your horizons putting some forethought into the topics at hand will prime your brain for learning. You don’t need to be too specific; unless you have so many goals you want to make sure you hit them all, in which plan away! Some examples of pre-event goals I’ve had recently:
- Listen for/ask about social media case studies
- Try to meet session leader, at the very least introduce myself
- Gather trend information
- Find this new product and get the “pitch” (trade show goal)
- Take notes. You don’t need to go the color coded route but you should jot down a few observances or ideas that are inspired by the content being presented. Being an active note taker will make you a much more engaged listener and therefore more likely to acquire new knowledge. If a handout is provided then highlight facts/ideas that resonated with you in the moment but, it’s a good idea to always bring a pen and paper just in case.
- During the event ask questions and provide input, if it is solicited. Speakers put a lot of time and thought into the content and structure of their presentations. When they ask for questions or input it is because they sincerely want to integrate your thoughts into their message. Plus, it is a chance to make sure the goals you set going into the event are satisfied.
- While the issues, ideas and news is still fresh in your head try to find at least two ways it relates to your current work. Sometimes these opportunities are informational oasis in an otherwise static routine. If you’re able to tie the information acquired during these events to your everyday work you’ll be more likely to retain the new perspective.
- Once the event is over follow up; either by filling out a comment card or sending a note to the organizer/presenter. Be sure to identify what you took away from the event and, if necessary what additional information would have been useful. This gives you the opportunity to summarize the event succinctly and help the organizer/speaker continue to improve their content.
A lot of money and planning go into creating events and learning opportunities; using these tips will make sure you make the most of that investment.