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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Be an Insanely Great Professional Conference Attendee (at eLearningGuild’s DevLearn)

As way of introduction to this topic, let me start with a typical scenario that you will recognize if you’ve ever attended a professional conference…

It’s noon and you are heading into the lunch area. The conference organizer has put signs in the middle of each table with a topic. One of the topics is LMS and there’s a seat available, so you sit down. You introduce yourself to the people sitting to your left and right. You ask each other the natural questions. “So what LMS are you using? How do you like it?” They respond with a superficial answer. And you go on with “Hmmm … that’s great. Do you have any plans while you are in town?”
Well you tried right. C’mon we’ve all been there. We’ve all gone through similar motions. If anything that’s the normal conversation. But let’s compare…

You walk in. Sit down at the LMS table. Introduce yourself. Then you say, “We are beginning to use more reference materials as part of the learning and back on the job. We’d like this to be tracked through the LMS, but we are running into a problem that if we try to track it, then the LMS makes you jump through a couple of hurdles to access it. Are any of you using reference material? Are you tracking it? How?”
Hopefully it’s obvious that everyone else at the table is going to enjoy their lunch conversation a lot more because of your questions and, of course, you are going to get a lot more out of the conversation.

What’s the difference between the two? If you read my blog you know the answer … Better Questions.

If you are planning to attend DevLearn in October, and really even if you aren’t but want to figure out what questions you really have, I would highly encourage you to TAKE ACTION by thinking through the questions you have about eLearning and CONTRIBUTING YOUR QUESTIONS AT THE END OF THIS POST. Psst … it’s also the

Secret to Being an Insanely Great Conference Attendee =>

Find Your Good Questions

At a conference, you will get significantly more from the conference by being prepared with better questions. And it’s not only lunch conversations. You’ll get more from walking around the expo floor … have you found yourself wandering aimlessly … that’s because you don’t have questions. You’ll get more from sessions you attend. And the speaker would LOVE it if you sent them questions ahead of their session.

Finding Your Good Questions

The old adage used to be “There’s no such thing as a bad question.” Unfortunately, if you’ve ever been a teacher or professor – actually a person – you know that there’s a spectrum of questions from bad (yes there are some) to really good. Good questions provide some context. They dig a little deeper. And, yes, they require a bit of thinking to find.

My suggestion is that you start by recognizing that likely questions are going to come from a variety of perspectives: career, project, learning department, and internal/external clients.

Let me give you some examples of questions that I think may foster a better conference:


  • I have a background/degree in ISD. I’ve been creating simple courseware using Lectora. But it seems like more and more of our content is going towards reference materials and we are using more rapid eLearning where there’s really not much instructional design. What kind of job can I do with my ISD background given this shift in how things are being done? Are there new skills I should be learning? How about studying Information Architecture?

Learning Department

  • We currently have three multitalented individuals creating courses in Lectora and Captivate. Each individual is assigned to a particular project and they do it all from start-to-finish including: ID, writing, authoring. Of course, we have slightly different talent in each of the areas so we try to assign the person based on the needs of the project. Should we consider restructuring the department so that we have specialists and so that they work as a team on projects? Will we get more or less done? Will the extra communication eat up any efficiencies we gain?

Internal/External Clients

  • We are helping store managers who are responsible for their store’s customer satisfaction ratings. We have numbers that tell us what areas need to be worked on, but we can’t directly reach into the stores and touch the employees. We have to work through the store manager. What kinds of tools, techniques can we use to help the store manager effectively train and coach employees given particular customer sat problems in the store? Have other people tackled this problem or similar problems?

Techniques / Technology / Tools

  • We’d like to use video for some of our training, but we’re concerned about bandwidth limitations. How can we determine if video will work on our network? Is there a cost effective way to test? What technologies might allow us to try it out on a limited basis without investing a lot? Are other people doing this? Did they do any load evaluation? Or how did they test and roll it out?
  • With SecondLife being used as a venue by Harvard Extension for a class, does this suggest that this technology should be considered? Has anyone really used it? What was the result? Why should I believe that using SecondLife or any virtual environment would actually result in better learning? Isn’t it just a fun gimmick that would get in the way of learning?

I’d love to hear these questions discussed at lunch, at a session, on the expo floor. While not every attendee is going to be interested in every question and certainly not everyone can contribute to every question, I’m confident that if you spend time finding your questions, you will get more from the conference. And, I'm sure that if you post your questions in the comments on this blog you will also get value.

Most people who attend eLearning conferences (such as DevLearn) have been working in the field for quite a while. How many questions do you think you might have?

Go ahead – add a comment right now to this post with a couple questions! No really. Do it!

Exposure / Novice Questions

What do you do if you don’t know enough to formulate a specific question? What do you do if your goal around a topic is just “exposure to what other people are doing”?

In these cases, the basic rubric is to ask: how does this topic apply to me and my situation?
Look at the topic and consider – how does it (if at all) apply to my situation?

I think it’s somewhat of a cop out to say – “I’m just coming to get exposure to .” Let’s pick a topic ... maybe, video. Let’s say you don’t know anything about technical aspects of video. But, if you are even interested in the topic, it must be because you think there may be some need. So, maybe your question is "Does this apply to my topics?" Maybe it’s "How can I easily create something for testing."

Do spend a little time thinking about your context and the topic area and figure out what you should say at the appropriate lunch table. And it’s not “I’m just here for exposure.”

Planning Your Conference

Once you have formulated your questions as best you can and posted them as a comment in this blog (Note:… if I get flood, then DevLearn has promised to help handle it … it’s a good problem not a bad one… ) … then you should go back and look at the conference program and consider how you can get your questions answered.

  • Who might you want to meet with who would have answers?
  • What sessions might have content?
  • What are other activities at the conference where I can talk to people?
  • How can I meet up with other people who have similar issues or have experience with my questions?

I bet that based on your questions, you will be able to figure out answers to this stuff. If not, then the conference organizer will be more than happy to help you figure out the answer.

One of my clients right now runs a trade show in a completely different industry. They see their mission as helping constiuents find help, answers, etc. They are truly committed to doing that. But, they only can help those who seek help. The smartest people take them up by figuring out what help they need. Do the same thing! Find Your Questions! Post Them! Be insanely great!


Nancy White said...

Great post. You got me thinking about why I tend to shortchange myself in table introductions because I find a lot of what people say is, well, too disconnected. I can change that pattern by asking a good question.


Stephen Downes said...

Why do so many people like questions, when so few people like answers?

Tony Karrer said...

That is very funny Stephen! LOL.