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Pre-gaming the post-conference blues


Everyone is excited about their next favorite conference, but the worst part of the conference is what I’ve taken to calling the post-conference hangover. It goes something like this:

You go to the conference and have a great time. Everyone is enjoying themselves, you fill an entire moleskine notebook with all of the learning you did, cards you collected and connections you made.

Then you get home.

The euphoria doesn’t wear off until about 24-48 hours after the conference when you realize that you don’t have lots of people at your disposal who want to talk about the sorts of topics that captivate and challenge you day in and day out. It’s a lot like getting back home after a summer at camp.

Attending a conference isn’t only about what you can learn, it’s being able to translate those learning opportunities into your daily life inside the office.

Here are three ways you can maximize the post-conference experience before you’ve left the venue:

1. Treat the conference schedule like a music festival and plan ahead.

If you’ve ever been to a huge musical festival you know how difficult it can be to choose who to see when. At larger conferences, it can be just as daunting when there are so many appealing sessions scheduled at overlapping times.

Reviewing the schedule before you arrive, from your desk or couch gives you the best chance to balance “which things would be interesting to me,” with “what sessions can I put to use in the next week (month?) post-conference?” Making those decisions ahead of time will take the guesswork out of scheduling and make you less inclined to follow whoever you’re with at the time.

2. Use the twitter backchannel (more) sparingly.

At any event of consequence these days, there is generally a hashtag and a subsequent chatter ongoing throughout the event with legions of people tweeting out facts, quotes and observations galore. If you follow a lot of the same people, it ends up being a mess of the same kinds of messages amplified across the same network.

While we all tweet for different reasons, think consciously about why you’re participating in the backchannel. Are you taking a stream of notes you’ll refer to later? Don’t want to miss out on what others are feeling about the presentation? Want to see what’s going on in a concurrent presentation you’re missing?

As a frequent conference speaker, I have accepted distracted audiences as part of the job description. I’m not offended by it, because I know how I work and someone staring at a screen isn’t necessarily an affront. But as a frequent member of the audience, have taken to putting down my phone and closing Tweetdeck during a session because it sometimes makes it harder to keep up and stay engaged in the entirety of the presentation.

All speakers have a different style and the more present you can be, the more they can (and will) feed off your attention and energy. No one will be offended on stage if you decide to show you’re paying attention more often.

2.5 Try the designated tweeter

One tactic some fellow conferencegoers and I have employed lately is the “designated tweeter,” who in our row or table is the person who pays attention and does the bulk of the tweeting during a particular session where maybe the rest of us want to be super engaged so we can ask questions and thus, might tweet less than a different session. Not every session is relevant to everybody always, so there’s more than enough opportunity to pass off the lion’s share of the “chronicling” for the backchannel and folks who couldn’t make it.

While you’re at the conference is one thing, but what about the post-conference hangover blues? How do you beat them?

3. Write a post-conference brief

Depending on where you work, coming back from a conference isn’t revered as a “great learning opportunity,” but just a few days you were out of the office and now need to get caught up. Nonetheless, the relationships and learning opportunities to be maximized are often worth their time spent away. One way to reflect on all you’ve learned is a short post-conference brief.

Don’t overthink it. No one has to see this, it can be in blog format too. Just a brief few paragraphs about sessions you attended and how what you learned could apply directly to goals you’ve set back in the office. Having your thoughts organized in this way shortly after you’ve returned home is a good way to help you communicate with others on what you’ve learned if you’re asked.

4. Stay connected with others

The post-conference woes affect all of us, especially newcomers to the conference scene. Reaching out to others you met — even if it’s a simple email saying “it was good to meet, let’s stay in touch,” is a good reminder that you didn’t dream the whole thing. Unlike those times when you say you’re going to follow up, but don’t, actually make an effort whether it’s via Twitter or LinkedIn to reach out periodically to those connections you’ve made in topical ways.

Two examples:

“Hey Matt, it was great to meet you at #ronbroncon. Have you been able to implement anything from that analytics session yet?”

“@ronbronson It was great to connect at @imaginaryconf. Would enjoy hearing more about how you all decide to implement Slack. Stay in touch!”

Don’t get sucked into the trap of believing that because you met someone once at a conference that you are now BFFs, should exchange Facebook credentials and babies pictures. People will let you know if they’re open to that, but in most cases that’s just not how it goes. Keep it professional.

Here’s the last one.

5. Being a solutions practitioner

No this isn’t like being a web ninja. Sometimes, conferences can be dispiriting for the same ways that the playground can be. The cool kids have cool tools and you might have any of those things.

But let’s face, you’re not going to be able to implement every cool thing you see or buy every awesome product that gets demoed. Don’t be discouraged by that, instead be solutions oriented by identifying small things you can fix without a ton of buy-in or forming a 1000 person committee or workgroup.

Right now there are surely hundreds of tasks in your immediate area of responsibility that could be made easier if someone wanted to make the time to fix them. I’m not suggesting you’ll fix 99 problems, but if you can fix one…you might make someone’s life easier and one dominoes can cause others to fall.

Conferences are exciting and a great opportunity for you to learn and grow with company. Bring home the smarts, put them to good use and ensure that others can benefit and pay it forward someday too.


No HighEdWeb? A Lament and a Commitment

by @tarbym

I believe that in one of the first posts I wrote for this blog, I confessed that the time before the HighEdWeb annual conference seems to always find me in a bit of work-related funk. (And, on a completely unrelated note, I found the fact that auto correct accepted HighEdWeb as a properly spelled word completely awesome). Well, 2014 is proving to be no different. Except for one major distinction: I can’t be in Portland this year.  Much as I had planned on being there, worked on putting together another awesome group of sessions for our track, looked forward to another amazing year, and needed that chance to re-charge, I will find myself watching the back channel.

When talking to people about the conference, I always said that one of the things that helps me as a solo is drawing from the collective strength that comes from being a part of this group.  While it starts from the program, it extends everywhere: from hanging out with awesome people to reminding myself that even though I am one person, I do some pretty amazing things throughout the year.  Ultimately, through this conference, I’ve built a network of friends to draw strength from.  So what now?  I haven’t been in this spot for a very long time.

I won’t lie. There will be pouting involved. But, as solos know, that will not get the job done. I can’t remember where I first saw this idea, but in the back of my mind I remember seeing a tweet with an article recommending that no matter how difficult, you make time for professional development each day.  And while checking out the #GGRGT back channel last week, I saw a similar theme – hard work is awesome but you have to remember to take the time to care for yourself.

So as the month of HighEdWeb begins, this is what I’ll be committing myself to do: make sure I take the time to learn something new and step outside of my comfort zone.  I started taking my first MOOC courses this week.  I’ve also finally committed to getting my certification in Google Analytics.  I’ve added a Toggl category so I can keep track throughout the week to see how I’m progressing.

Ultimately, I’m looking for things that interest me. Things that will help me work smarter. Things that will help me raise that bar. For me this is disruptive technology, advanced marketing strategy, and R programming.  What will it be for you?



Building from the Ground Up

By: @tarbym

Share your story of why a new project or initiative is important as often as you can in an informal setting. This is where it will begin to resonate with people because they’ll have the chance to ask you questions and begin to think about how it can help them.

field of dreamsThis epiphany coincides with the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams with that classic line “People will come, Ray”. In the movie, they were trying to convince Ray Kinsella that building a baseball field in the middle of his farm was a good idea. OK, I’m not trying to pull off anything that majestic, but I am seeing a new groundswell of people buying in to why our portal is important and sharing that message with their colleagues.

A groundswell won’t happen if it’s mandated from the top.  When this project began, I spent a lot of time doing formal presentations on the goals of the portal, why it mattered, what platform it was being built on… That was a good first step, but it didn’t spark the interest of the people who were ultimately going to be maintaining their department’s sites.  What sparked their interest was actually having the chance to ask questions.  What sparked their interest was the ability for people to sit in a setting like our open labs an see what another office was working on for inspiration.  What sparked interest was the opportunity for them to talk to their peers.

I am a resource – I can build, train, enable, but ultimately the individual office needs to make It personally relevant  and important to how they work.   My last open lab was full of people working on different things when we were joined by a representative from one of our campus offices resisting the need to build anything in the portal. I gave my standard elevator pitch – the improved self-service tools, the renewed marketing focus on the website, etc. but it wasn’t making a difference.  The individual wasn’t yet seeing why it mattered – at this point it was just a time sucking mandate.  But a little while later, as I was working with an office to think through workflows, I heard a few people who were working on their sites begin chiming in:  “Take a look at how we’re organizing our content.”  “We’ve been able to use the new web tools to streamline what we’re trying to say.” “Look at how easy it is to manage your page.” Item after item explaining why and how they’ve made this effort relevant and personal to their office’s success.

Suddenly it was no longer a Web Services mandate, it was a campus partnership. And that is a great thing no matter how big or small a shop you’re working in.