1. Clear the decks.
The first step is to eliminate unnecessary stress and pressure by getting things done ahead of time. You don’t want to arrive with lots on your mind or on your to do list. What do you need to do before you leave so that you don’t have to worry while you’re away? What do you need to re-schedule? So much as possible avoid meetings or tasks that need to be done while you are away.
2. Have a personal plan.
Create a personal conference schedule so you’re wasting time trying to figure out where you need to be and when. Review the conference agenda, look again at the sessions you’d signed up for, research what exhibitors you want to connect with in order to bring information and ideas back to the office. Identify times when you can connect with others and expand your network—and don’t neglect some R&R for yourself—downtime when you can relax and recharge!
3. Get comfortable.
Physical or mental discomfort can be distracting. Unpack right away and make yourself at home. Be sure to pack several pairs of comfortable shoes, and bring a light sweater as well since meeting rooms are often chilly, particularly in the morning.
4. Soak it up!
Predispose yourself to learning with a “sponge brain.” Make the most of this opportunity to connect, create relationships and LEARN from the trainers, speakers, exhibitors and your peers!
5. Orient yourself.
Conference venues can be disorienting due to their size and sprawl. Pick up your Conference packet, review the Program Guide, and identify the rooms where sessions will be held. Take some time to learn your way around the hotel and the conference space. Locate where you can get coffee and pick up water or snacks for your room.
6. Engage right away.
Meet people starting from the first hour. Many attendees are first times or traveling alone; you’ll feel more comfortable if you reach out to help them be more comfortable. Don’t be shy about asking others to join you for lunch or dinner. Take part in the Conference Orientation and networking.
7. Stay hydrated and feed your brain.
Drink lots of water during the Conference to keep your energy up and help you stay alert; bring a water bottle so that you can fill up at the hotel’s water stations. Make healthy food choices. You might want to pack a few protein bars or some trail mix for the afternoons.
8. Get ready to learn.
Take a few minutes each morning to calm your mind, “put away” your worries, and open yourself to new information. Turn off the cell phone. You can even start Monday and Tuesday with yoga at APC.
9. Bring focus to each session.
As you listen, mentally summarize the key points that the speaker is making. Consider how information can apply to you and come up with examples that illustrate key points. We learn better and faster when we generate examples that are relevant to us.
10. Write it down.
Take notes; you will remember more when you write things down. The simple act of holding and using a pen or pencil reinforces recall—and some say that it stimulates acupressure points in your hand. Bring sticky notes to make notes of ideas that you want to explore later or things to do. If you have a lap top with you, use it for notes—and don’t forget to charge in between sessions!
11. Picture this.
Some of us are visual learners—as you take notes or when you are working on a problem, try drawing it. Use flow charts to map out tasks and mind maps when you take notes. These techniques engage your mind in organizing your thoughts and aid in assessing other’s ideas.
12. Get your blood moving.
Lack of blood flow is a common reason for lack of concentration. If you've been sitting in one place, bounce one of your legs for a minute or two or flex your feet and hands. It gets your blood flowing and sharpens both concentration and recall. Take a short walk outside as often as possible.
13. Turn information into action and ideas.
Tap into your creative side to look for ways you can innovative back at work. At the end of each day or near the end of the Conference, put your “to do” and “to try” lists together. When you get back, you’ll have a list of ideas to get you started right away. Target two things to do in the coming week. We learn by doing, so the bottom line is those back-at-work action items.
14. Stimulate your other senses and refresh yourself.
Build in some fun and relaxation. There’s a lot to see and do in Chicago!
15. Recall is reinforcement; share the wealth.
Review your notes when you get back to work and tell others about the sessions. Another great way to reinforce new learning is to teach someone else. Even better, share the learning by taking Conference Recordings with synchronized slides back to work.
Learning is more effective when it is enjoyable, challenging, or participatory. That’s why examples, laughter, practice, and stretch goals should be built into your learning and development program.