It isn't often that an industry conference comes along at just a time when an organization can send its entire team. But this year, the stars aligned, and we were fortunate enough to be able to send our entire learning and development team to Denver for the ASTD International Conference and Expo.
Now, it's certainly an expensive proposition to send people off for these kinds of conferences. And, yes, there's a chance our team will focus more on having fun than on working. But that's OK, because I know the benefits of the trip outweigh the costs. This year's conference includes a keynote speech from Jim Collins and several other talks on innovative ideas. Add to that the additional insight recorded through the back-channel on Twitter and the opportunities to network with industry pros, and it's suddenly an easy decision. In fact, I've got five main reasons I've decided to send my entire tea mto our industry's biggest conference:
Attending a conference is a great way for a team to meet outside of work in a relaxed, inspiring environment and still have an opportunity to get some work done. Although the team won't attend every event together (at least I hope not), when we meet between sessions to have lunch, we can talk about what we've learned and what we can do differently back at the office. We can bounce ideas off each other, share stories about what we've learned, and establish a camaraderie that takes much longer to jell in an office setting.
Establish a common language
Our corporate strategy for the year is composed of several parts, including "performance support," "social learning," "self-paced tutorials," and "real-work in training." By attending sessions on each of these topics, we can start to establish a common language within our department to define these ideas. Even if we attend different seminars on "performance support" and see it differently, at least we'll have some solid footing for talking about how we'd like to implement it. I think a team's ability to debate ideas like this and come up with its own solutions that best suit its problems is crucial. And the best way to be in a position to have those kinds of discussions is to start speaking the same language.
Opportunity to develop
Attending a conference is a great way to build new skills, or at least learn about what new skills you still need to develop. Some members of our team are attending pre-conference certification programs, which are more focused and intensive programs for developing specific skills. With that foundation, attending concurrent sessions at the conference offers the opportunity to see how others implement those ideas in practice. .
Meet with vendors
Another reason to attend #ASTD2012 is to meet with vendors about how their offerings could help improve what you do, which in our case is to driving our company mission through performance improvement initiatives. In some cases, that will be technology solutions. In others, it could be through content- or even leadership-development. You can learn a lot from conference calls and demos, but sometimes it takes meeting people in person and getting closer to the product. We might even meet some vendors who have solution we aren't already aware of that could really help us improve. I hope everyone on our team meets with some of the vendors at the conference.
Establish a culture of innovation
I personally want to infuse a culture of innovation and experimentation on the team. I like it when we get a new idea and go out and try it. Our training manager had an idea to try flash mob learning sessions out on the floor, huddled around desks, instead of in a classroom. She just went out and tried it. Perfect. We had some good feedback and some bad. We learned from it and made some adjustments. Now it looks like these flash mob sessions are becoming a staple in our learning tool chest. Attending a conference is a great way to pick up ideas like this and try them back at the office. If we attend #ASTD2012 as a team, we can talk about these ideas during the conference and say to each other, "Yes, let's try that."
So these are five reasons I am sending my entire team to #ASTD2012. I don't mean to sound like a shill for ASTD — I just mean to say that for teams in any industry, these conferences can be a great way for teams to learn new things. And consider the message it sends your team when you send them to a big conference: it says you care enough about them to invest in their development. Few things say that more clearly and with more effect than attendance at an industry conference. Plus, we'll have some fun.
More: Formal Training Vs. Informal Learning: Which Makes More Sense?
Bill Cushard, Director of Training and Development at Allonhill, is a learning leader with more than 12 years of experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable. Image used courtesy of ASTD.