Networking and personal development
This week the L&D field will be talking, tweeting, Periscoping and blogging about the Learning Technologies 2017 conference and exhibition. It’s one of the biggest L&D technology and skills events in Europe. There’s a paid-for conference with some good speaker sessions, a free exhibition with a huge number of organisations displaying their wares and free seminar sessions on the exhibition floor.
Thousands of people will visit the London event over a couple of days this week to find out from exhibitors what’s new for the future, what they can implement now, speak to companies they are interested in and visit the seminar sessions to develop their knowledge and understanding of industry issues.
In my Cook Looks column in the July TJ I wrote about going to conferences and how challenging it can be if you don’t know anyone and I’m reminded of that experience at this time of year as I’ve been chatting about my first ever Learning Technologies exhibition I went to a number of years ago. I didn’t know anyone. At all. Not a single person! Going to LearningT for the first time was daunting – there were so many stands, so many people and I was in a bubble on my own walking around.
One thing that that I think has changed a little bit is the way that some of the people on the stands interact with you. I found the first handful of years I went around the exhibition interesting as to how people looked at your name badge and reacted to you.
The first year I went, on my name badge was Turner Broadcasting, which isn’t well known in the UK despite employing 50 odd thousand people around the world and with household names like Cartoon Network and Time Warner movies as part of the group. I got lots of disinterested looks from the sales people. The second year I had on my name badge CNN News, which is actually just a subsidiary of Turner. Suddenly I was every sales person’s best friend. I’ve been on the side of the sales person, standing and looking for prospects, so I get what a hard job it is. I’m glad to say that it feels different now.
The third year I went to the LT free exhibition I was freshly redundant from an L&D role where my internal network was great, but I was quickly learning the lesson about the importance of an industry network. Whilst I’d been to the event a couple of times, I certainly wasn’t connected to many people. It was a relatively lonely experience, despite some very good free seminars - and some very poor ones that were thinly veiled sales pitches.
What little did I realise when I sat down next to Debbie Carter for the first time that many years later she would be my fabulous Editor!
It’s that third year that things changed for me. I’d realised that the networking part of things was important and I was seeking out the experiences that would let me do that. I went to the Learning Exchanges, co-hosted by Towards Maturity and Training Journal. What little did I realise when I sat down next to Debbie Carter for the first time that many years later she would be my fabulous Editor and I would work for the magazine!
The Learning Exchanges are all about a small audience talking to one of the conference speakers and I remember having a good chat with 70:20:10 thought leader Charles Jennings… and again, years later I’ve ended up working with him!
There are many, many more people I’ve met over time and become friends with. The key is to start a conversation with someone. It can seem very challenging at times. I’ve found that in the conference area, especially if you are early, people are often sitting at a table with a coffee, head buried in phone/tablet or laptop. I know why, if I’m on my own I do that too!
I try and say hi and strike up a conversation, usually asking something like “what are you looking forward to today” or “have you travelled far” or “what did you enjoy of yesterday” and the like. If you are observant of people’s tone, response and body language you’ll soon see if they want to talk or not, and you can move on respectfully if they don’t.
Another way of networking is via Social Media, predominantly Twitter, and the conference hashtag #LT17UK. By following people, interacting with them and getting to know them, when you do meet them at the event, you have more to talk about, more people to recognise.
The Hand and Flower pub, a great place to unwind at the end of the day and chat to people
Then there are the fringe events. Martin Couzins organises a barcamp every year at a nearby pub where you can chat L&D with industry experts. Almost opposite the venue is The Hand and Flower pub, a great place to unwind at the end of the day and chat to people – they are still usually wearing name badges, so you’ll see them. It’s always packed and noisy, but grab a drink, join a group and get chatting.
Whichever way you enjoy LT, get chatting with people, build those relationships and enjoy the creative, challenging and inspiring event and let us know what you think of it!
About the author
Jo Cook is Deputy Editor of TJ and an independent L&D specialist focusing on blended programme design and live online virtual classrooms. She can be contacted through her blog at www.lightbulbmoment.info and via Twitter: @LightbulbJo
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