Attending an event? Maybe a conference or a company function that has a learning component in it, as most of them do? You want to maximize your learning experience. Learn as much as possible. Bring home, apply, and share what you have learned.

Quite often, we believe that we have learned a lot and are enthusiastic about what we have heard, but then we simply leave our notes forgotten somewhere, do not apply what we have learned, and after some time, we can no longer recall anything useful from a conference or an event. Sounds familiar?

Let me quote David Kelley, the CEO of the Learning Guild, who, at the end of all conferences, says, "Remember, the true impact starts after you leave this conference."

Transferring knowledge from events to the office

There are many approaches that can help us learn effectively and transfer the knowledge from events back to the office. But first and foremost, we have to be an active participant. Passivity does not count; engagement is paramount. So let's first define what active participation could mean:

  1. Carefully building a personal agenda of the event (and pre-event) activities
  2. Participating on the event's social platform
  3. Attending the event's social activities dynamically
  4. Attending the sessions with full focus
  5. Visiting the exhibitions and demos with full engagement
  6. Reporting and sharing learning experiences. Refreshing the memories

All the solutions for maximizing your learning experience are based on what learning (cognitive) science says and require the attendee to have a structured, well-thought-out approach. This planning has to start way before the event, even before we register for it.

We could group the activities for maximizing learning into three phases, which happen before the event, at the event, and after it:

  • Define expectations: Find what is in it for you and recall or activate prior knowledge (prime your brain)
  • Be receptive and mix the activities: Combine social activities, sessions, demos, and visits to the expo
  • Encode the knowledge: Deploy retrieval practices to share content

Now let's look at some specific options that you can utilize so you get the most out of the event.

Carefully build a personal agenda of the event (and pre-event) activities

As soon as you are clear about the event and the agenda is released, look at the topics you might be interested in. Start building your plan.

Today you can use Generative AI as an assistant that helps you select the most suitable sessions. Some providers even build their own GPT models for the events.

Often, organizations offer webinars as an introduction to a larger event. Attend them. Find related materials or videos that you can review prior to attending the event. And, once you are registered, you usually get access to the event platform. Some organizers also supply you with a "participant manual" where you can structure your schedule, add your notes, etc.

Just keeping the event content in mind can help you recall your prior knowledge or stimulate you to do additional research and learn even before the event. Coming to an event well-prepared will enable you to ask great questions, follow the discussions better, etc. Some minor preparatory work will certainly pay off, and you will be following it better.

Participate on the event's social platform

An event-associated social platform is an integral part of most of the events. Join as soon as possible and start building your "event network." You may meet some new people, find common interests, or engage in discussions with people you already know.

Do not forget to create your profile. It could be very simple, but certainly list the interests for which you picked that specific conference. Such information will help others find "birds of a feather." Later, you will connect on LinkedIn or similar global social networks.

Make sure your connections can happen quickly; use the QR codes when these are provided. Prepare for quick encounters at the event itself. And do not forget to maintain these connections—wherever you establish them—especially the ones that you truly find valuable.

Attend social activities "dynamically"

Here, we do not mean individual social interactions (like meeting for coffee); we mean organized activities, apart from parties.

Let's just focus on one of the social activities that you may encounter—speed networking. In speed networking, you randomly meet several individuals for a quick exchange of information in a structured way. Though to some, it seems that it would be a waste of time, it is not—if you ask good questions and present interesting facts about yourself.

The key information you learn from each person can help you navigate the conference better and improve your learning.

Once you have met these people, you will encounter them every now and then during the event and remember: "This is the chatbot guy. This is the lady who is interested in the AI-assisted video creation session. This is the person from the Midwest who is writing a book about learning leadership."

Such "mnemonics" help you connect the dots and get a more holistic view of what you learn, and thus help your long-term memory to encode the information. Also, various organized "fun activities" could be a great source of learning. Once, I attended the so-called "presentation roulette," and since then, I have been including it in our student programs. In addition, also attend informal discussions that are included in the event program, often with names like Birds of a Feather, Meet the Engineer, Morning Buzz, Community Conversation, and similar. They are the best way to share knowledge and meet great speakers and interesting participants in an informal setting.

Be focused when attending sessions

The regular sessions are the "meat" of a conference or an event. Go to them; arrive early and then stay a bit after the session to exchange some thoughts with the presenter or active participants. Just do not silently sit when you are in the room.

If you find a session a bit dry, try to make it more dynamic by asking a question or adding a comment; some presenters, when they feel there is a conversation, completely change. Worst case? You can still leave.

Always take notes. Ideally, use handwritten notes or write them (by electronic pencil) on a tablet; combine them with screenshots and provided materials. After the conference, you can revisit the paper notes and summarize them in a digital format.

Notes are essential in achieving the best impact. To maximize learning, attend a mix of sessions where you learn new content, deep-dive sessions that strengthen your existing knowledge, and "light" sessions that mainly confirm what you already know, possibly adding some new best practices and fresh perspectives.

Fully engage while at the exhibition

Expos and exhibitions can enhance your learning significantly if you take an active role. Do not bypass the booth or demo point—but also do not let them spill their sales pitch on you! Ask very simple and direct questions, like "In three words, what is the solution you present here?" and then "How does your solution differ from [and mention something you know well] ... Their responses may bring you some new perspectives! Let the exhibitors demonstrate in practice what you heard in the session(s). Relating the theory to practice will certainly help strengthen your learning.

Report and share your learning experience

Post your summaries on social platforms or your knowledge-sharing platform in the organization during the event, but certainly after it. Each time you do this, you have a perfect opportunity to reread your notes, wherever they are—I usually combine the paper and digital ones.

You can use AI to summarize your notes or related material that is already in a digital format. Present the summary to your team. Optimize your work: First, create a short post for social media, then expand it for your team, and, for the most sought-after content, organize an in-person session with the team. Also, continue to work on topics that were new to you—do further exploration and attend the post-event sessions, if available, or seek out webinars by presenters you met.

Learning event is not an event, it is a process

To maximize your learning experience at the event, keep in mind Karen Hyder's "4 R" words: retrieve, review, rehearse, remind, retain. It all starts by retrieving your prior knowledge during your preparation for the event, then it combines a detailed review of the event content and active participation, followed by careful rehearsal of your notes and event materials. After the event, constantly remind yourself to return to the key experiences from the event and space your review process through time,  helping you to retain as much knowledge as possible. The best advice: Share the acquired knowledge as often as you can with as many people as you can, and apply it wherever applicable. Then you will certainly not forget it.

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