Seven Tips to Make the Most of the 2014 ASTD Conference & Exposition

by Darlene Christopher on May 2, 2014

ASTD2014-1The ASTD International Conference and Exposition starts in a couple of days in Washington DC.  I was chatting with a few people who haven’t attended the conference before, and since I’ve been to this conference many times I wanted to share advice on how to make the most of your time:

1.       Pace Yourself

The conference is three and a half days and it may not sound long, but it’s easy to get burned out by Wednesday if you don’t pace yourself.  It’s tempting to cram each day full of activities and go “all out” but this will likely backfire.  Think about what your goals and what you’d like to achieve before leaving the conference and use those goals as a guide to plan your time.

2.      Develop a Plan

It seems like every conference I learn later about a speaker that I really wanted to see, but somehow missed.  So it’s best to develop a plan by spending some time before the conference starts to flag the sessions you really don’t want to miss.  Here’s how I do it:

  • Go to the conference website and create a Schedule Planner account
  • Browse sessions by track, speaker, topic, etc. and click “add to planner” when you find the ones you like.
  • Now look at the Schedule Planner and see where you have gaps and overlaps. I like to select two sessions per time slot, in case the first session I go to is full or wasn’t what I expected.
  • When you finalize your schedule you can add the sessions you selected to Outlook, or use the conference app – I prefer the latter.

3.      Get the App

The conference app is a great tool for navigating the conference, keeping up with Tweets, taking notes and managing your schedule.  To download it search for “ASTD Events” in your device store. Once you download it, log in using the Schedule Planner account you created and synch your schedule to your device. Many of the speaker slides and other materials are loaded into the app.  You can take notes on the slides and send them to yourself later.

4.      Tackle the EXPO

The EXPO is great way to meet vendors and see new developments in the L&D marketplace.  There will be about 300 vendors in the EXPO so I like to go into the EXPO knowing which vendors I definitely want to visit and then use the rest of my time to browse.  In the conference Look Book there is a handy section where vendors are categorized by Areas of Expertise (p. 123) and I use this to prioritize my list.  Use the app or the conference web site to tag the vendors you want to visit.

5.      Network Constantly

The conference is as much about participating in great learning sessions as it is about meeting new people.  Introduce yourself to the person next to where you are, whether it be a keynote session, concurrent session or waiting in line for the restroom.  You already have something in common with everyone at the conference because we’re all passionate about learning and development, so striking up a conversation is easy.

If you have set up networking coffees or appointments, use the “Manage Your Schedule” feature on the app and click “Add Meeting.”  That way you’ll have conference sessions and personal meetings in one place.

6.      Go Off the Beaten Path

Some of my favorite sessions at the conference have been the “Author Chat” sessions which are held in the ASTD conference bookstore. These sessions tend to be small, so it’s easier to talk to the speaker if you have questions than in a regular session.  The list of Author Chats is in the Look Book on p. 36.

7.      Bring Your Ideas Back

Once the conference ends and you’re back at work, you’ll be busy getting caught up and before you know it, all of those great ideas you had from the conference are buried.  To prevent this from happening, create your learning transfer plan/action plan while you are at the conference.  ASTD provides a template to help you.


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