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How to make sure you learn something (like, ) from a conference

25.08.2014

Kathryn Reeves from Optimal Workshop shared she’s experiences how really learn something. You have a go at the following:

1. Narrow the learning field

The sheer amount of high-quality content you’re presented with at conferences is one reason why it’s so hard to take anything in. Our brains come close to having 2.5 petabytes (a million gigabytes) of memory storage capacity (it’s true, I read it in Scientific American). But ask me what I remember after a conference and I’m reduced to a few simple anecdotes and a couple of speaker’s names.

The antidote to this is to narrow your focus. Choose two or three (yes, so few) sessions that you want to not only attend, but prepare for and follow up on. Go for the talks that punch you in the gut when you read about them. Be ruthless. Pick two or three sessions that you actually want to change you. You’ll attend others, of course, but these are the ones you’ll commit to absorbing.

2. Find out what you know, what you don’t know, and what you think

One theory of education, contextualism, states that knowledge isn’t something that’s ‘out there’ for us to reach out and take, but that learning is contextual:

We do not learn isolated facts and theories in some abstract ethereal land of the mind separate from the rest of our lives: we learn in relationship to what else we know, what we believe, our prejudices, and our fears. — Prof. George E Hein
The more we know, the more we can learn. So take the two or three session topics you’ve chosen and put your study hat on. Find out what you don’t know on the subject, and what you do. Skim read the different view points and approaches. Write down questions you have. You don’t have to ask them, but having them in your mind will help to focus your attention. And finally, decide what your take on the topic is. Have an opinion (because anything’s more engaging if you’ve got an opinion about it).

I try to form an opinion as early as possible while remaining open to changing my view. I find that having an opinion makes me think more carefully about what I’m hearing. Either I form connections to validate my opinion, or my eyebrows work overtime to change my opinion, or I write down questions to ask later because I disagree with what I’m hearing — and none of this happens to the same extent if I don’t take a moment to reflect on my opinion first.

3. Do something — be an action bunny

After the conference, do something with what you’ve learnt. Make sure something you’ve learnt actually changes an aspect of what you do. Here’s some ideas for your Action List:

Source and read the books and resources that the speakers suggested you read. Go to the library or visit Amazon the day you get back, or you might forget.
Source and start using the tools that speakers suggested you try. Sign up for accounts, read reviews and discussions, and talk to your team about how you could start using the tools straight away.
Write a blog or an article about the event itself, or about a topic or theme that’s still ringing in your ears. And then share it with the people who attended and the people who spoke. We’ll definitely be keen to read it (and tweet about it!).
Contact the people you met (and liked). Ask them something meaningful or continue a conversation you already started.
Research things that sounded useful for your work environment. If you were jealous of some other work environment or practice, take a step in their direction. Create a space or practice that will make other people jealous at your next conference.
Share things with your colleagues. It’d be great if they’d been there too, and the least you can do is offer them a few highlights. Put together main points or insights into a fun presentation to share the love.
Have you changed an aspect of what you do? Make a reminder to thank your inspirer a month from now (when you can speak about the impact). Gratitude tastes and sounds great, freshens your breath, grows back immediately, and is good for the environment.
More advice on attending conferences

Here’s some gems of wisdom from around the web about attending conferences (and they just happen to be handy lists!)

Five tips for making the most of conferences by Scott Belskey at 99u.com

Twenty-seven things to do before a conference by Chris Brogan

Six tips to prepare for a conference by Kirsty Bolsinger

Ten ways to make the most out of a conference by Kate C Farrar at themuse.com

Make the most out of conference attendance by Dawn Foster not a list, but what the hell :)

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