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If you are looking for a solution to the mid-winter blues, there are several conferences in the learning and development industry held the first few months of each year. The upside is they are usually located in warmer climates. However choosing which one to attend can be as difficult as choosing from the lunch menu at your favorite restaurant. Reading a brochure doesn't quite capture what the conference has to offer. More importantly, you want to get the most out of attending. Nothing is worse than traveling cross country for what you thought would be a great conference and end up leaving disappointed. Being in the business of learning and development, I try to attend as many of these conference events as possible. It is my hope that this overview can make choosing the right conference a simpler process.
Although I've attended many conferences over the years, I was especially looking forward to Training Magazine's 36th annual Training 2013 Conference & Expo because it would be my first visit. The conference was held last month in Orlando, FL at the beautiful Disney Coronado Springs Resort.
What follows is a summary of my three-day visit. My view is two-fold: as a first-time attendee and as a conference veteran. With those two points of view, I hope to offer some insights when it comes to choosing which conference you may want to attend this time next year.
As I mentioned, this was my first time attending the Training 2013 Conference & Expo. I had heard many great things about the event and this year was my first opportunity to attend. I'm a frequent attendee and speaker at other conferences related specifically to the eLearning side of the industry and the technologies that surround them. However the audience at a Training 2013 conference is slightly different, with a stronger focus on standup or face-to-face training.
I spoke to several people and asked what drew them to Training 2013 as opposed to other conferences also held this time of year. A common response was simply networking. Others shared an interest in learning more practical tips they could take back to their workplace. Isn't that what typical conference attendees would say about going to a conference? Sure, but there was a different vibe with this crowd; there was a real sense of community, almost like family. Training 2013 was a big, annual family reunion.
The first thing I noticed is the schedule for Training 2013 is slightly different than most other conferences. The format is what one would typically expect; however the conference and expo began on a Monday as opposed to a Wednesday, which is typical for other events. Preconference Certificate Programs are held two days prior to the actual conference as one-day or two-day workshops. For Training 2013 these were scheduled over the weekend on Saturday and Sunday.
From a workplace perspective there are advantages to this schedule. If you're attending both a preconference workshop and the event, you're out of the office only three days—Monday through Wednesday. However, the downside is sacrificing your weekend.
The session lineup was broad and offered a variety of formats. Aside from the expected keynote speakers, featured sessions, and concurrent sessions, Training 2013 also offers post-conference site tours and a block of sessions for hands-on clinics.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the post-conference site tours. These are an additional cost similar to a preconference certificate program. This year there were two site tours: "Business Behind the Magic: A Disney Institute Tour," and "University of Central Florida's Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab Tour." Even if I had the opportunity to stay an extra day, it would have been extremely difficult to choose one, as I would have loved to tour both of those facilities. I am confident that next year's event planners will offer equally great tours.
Hands-on clinics are all held on the afternoon of the last day of the conference. The end of this block of sessions marks the end of the conference. From a programming and scheduling perspective these sessions make perfect sense. The clinics were longer than a typical concurrent session held during the other days. Instead of attendees possibly missing two concurrent session blocks in the afternoon, by having all of the hands-on clinics in the same block of time the challenge was selecting which one to attend.
Hands-on clinics are three hours in length. Just long enough to dive into some practical exercises, but not long enough to require a workshop format. Some of the topics this year were on PowerPoint graphics for your presentations, using social media for learning, creating eLearning videos, and more.
In addition, a Foundational Track was added this year to provide "an overview of key aspects of training." The programs sessions were indicated with a color dot and participants who attended five foundational track sessions each in a different color along and attended the preconference certificate program, "Designing and Delivering Instructor-Led Training," would receive a Total Trainer Certificate signed by Training Magazine's Editor-in-Chief, Lorri Freifeld.
"The Body" keynote was presented by Paul DePodesta, NY Mets VP of Player Development and Scouting. If you haven't seen the movie "Moneyball" with Brad Pitt, Paul is portrayed in that movie by the actor Jonah Hill. He shared the story of how to build a winning baseball team and the innovative strategies he used. It was a very entertaining story.
Finally, "The Soul" was presented by Jenn Lim and Matt Harding. Jenn talked about how happiness and work are never really in the same sentence. She created "The Culture Book" for Zappos.com in 2005, which has become a global model for companies to successfully integrate happiness and work and be good at it. Matt danced and simply entertained us!
The featured speakers were a collection of professionals whose sessions ranged from brain science to behavior change to leveraging technology to build new leaders. The featured lineup is a must-see for any conference-goer new or veteran.
As a first-time attendee at Training 2013 I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of session titles. As an independent contractor I spend most of my time in the eLearning space. I wanted to use this opportunity to broaden my scope outside of that world. Training 2013 didn't disappoint! There was such a wide range of topics from my comfort zone in eLearning and learning technologies, and there were plenty of offerings on topics such as project management methods, learner engagement, performance management, storytelling, and much more.
If you're used to attending conferences with a focus more on technology, Training 2013 Expo was less about the actual technology and more about the services such as virtual classroom platforms and hand-held devices for participants to interact with the training class. There were also several higher education universities showcasing their online degree programs. The majority of exhibitors were training and consulting companies offering services in leadership development, coaching, talent motivation, and more. If you're in the market for a business training partner the Training 2013 Expo alone is worth the trip.
I love games! Especially transmedia games. The Expo Trek game involved a smartphone app called Scvngr (Scavenger without the vowels). Scvngr is a location-based check-in app. Similar to Foursquare or Facebook's check-in feature. In the app a Trek was created called "Expo Trek Mobile Game." The idea of the game was to check-in at various locations and/or conduct other tasks including visiting booths in the expo. For example: Taking a photo and posting it in the Trek group earned points, while checking in to a keynote presentation also earned points.
There were three ways to win: Whoever had the most points each day would win a prize; the overall point winner would win a prize; and one would win by random drawing if you were part of the top 25 in the leaderboard. There are some highly competitive folks at this conference. Alas, I did not win.
Networking is one of the biggest draws of any conference. In fact, on my arrival the night before the conference began, I met and was introduced to several new friends before I even checked into my room. The conference, while structured remains true to an open and friendly atmosphere to encourage hallway conversations, dinner meet-ups, and open invitations to meeting new friends.
One particular event to encourage meeting new people is the Netwalk. Granted, this "session" is for those early risers who want to get the blood moving before the day begins. Netwalk is what the name suggests; a networking walk around the property. Because the Coronado Springs Resort is self-contained and has a single path that circles the lake, it's the perfect opportunity to get out early for a walk with friends.
Training 2013 Conference & Expo returns every year to the same resort, Disney's Coronado Springs Resort located at the Walt Disney World Resort. A vast piece of property with a central main building for hotel related services, shops, and restaurants. Connected to the main building is the conference center with easy access from various entry doors. All accommodations are spread throughout the resort property surrounding a central lake. To walk the circumference of the lake is nearly two miles! Depending on what building and where your room is located, it can be quite a walk to and from the conference center.
I have what I call my "Conference Bucket List." It's a list of conferences around the country and the world that I want to attend at least once. I can now check off Training Magazine's Training Conference & Expo of my list. I have another list. A list of events I've attended that have tremendous value. This conference is now on that list, too.
As you consider what conference you may want to attend this time next year, I encourage you to consider Training 2014. Like most other conference planners they are always looking for new speakers. If you've never shared your skills or talents I would also encourage you to submit a proposal to present.
Kevin Thorn is a self-taught, award-winning e-learning designer and developer with a passion for the art of visual communications. After retiring from the Army, Kevin embarked on a 15-year career in the corporate workforce. He earned a B.S. in Information Technology Management from Christian Brothers University. His current role is owner and Chief NuggetHead of NuggetHead Studioz, a design, development, and consulting business including e-learning design and development, illustration and graphic design, and training and consulting. Thorn approaches every project with the creative awareness and knowledge to take a project from conception to completion, and he can be found around learning communities on Twitter as @LearnNuggets, or at LearnNuggets.com where he writes opinions, reviews, and tutorials.
© 2013 ACM 1535-394X/13/03 $15.00
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