It has been about a month since the “mother” of all workplace learning conferences took place. The ASTD International Conference and Expo (or ICE, as the regulars call it) is the leading and largest conference in the training space. This is not to take away the great efforts placed by other conferences, but the ASTD conference is the one to attend if you can only attend one conference. It attracts the largest number of WLP professional and specialists from around the world—up to 10,000 participants at times. It also invites the most innovative and leading speakers to conduct workshops and concurrent sessions.

However, why do well-meaning participants who invest heavily to attend the conference return to their jobs and rarely apply the awesome new skills they’ve acquired? This phenomenon is no fault of the ASTD conferenceor any other conference. This is simple human nature and what we like to call post-conference euphoria or PCE, and it applies to most people who attend any type of trade conference. 

Here’s how it works: You purchase attendance to the conference. You plan your travel and hotel requirements. You spend weeks reading and re-reading the conference session descriptions and plan every hour of your conference attendance so you can make the most of what’s offered. Finally, you plan your learning wish list to take back once the conference ends. 

All of this sounds good in theory, right? If you’ve been to a trade conference, you’ve probably completed every step in this process except for the last one. My guess is that you returned to your desk and with a committed vigor, sought opportunities to apply most if not all of the learning from the conference. Then you looked around and saw the piles of work front of you. Or, your boss, peers, or co-workers got wind of your return and campaigned you to help solve a problem or to get involved in some work initiative. Day 1 upon your return is a write off. You are feeling (or actually are) overwhelmed with the responsibilities in front of you, so the conference takeaways are set aside. 

You return to work on Day 2 with renewed vigor and renewed promise. Recognizing what hit you on Day 1, you are more realistic in applying all you learned at the conference. But being a reasonable individual, you sit back and quickly recognize that you are not a super-worker and you need to trim back your aspirations. Rather than try to apply all of these great new skills, you become judicious in selecting the most relevant conference skills to apply. But the demands of Day 1 come back to haunt you and reality of Day 2 compounds it further. 

Day 3 (or 4) arrives and your will is further worn down. Your commitment is not as strong as on Day 1. Being rational, you make a conscious decision to set aside the conference information and realize that you need to take care of business first. You will gain control of the work demands and get some of them off of your plate. You say to yourself, “Once I gain control, I will then focus on all I learned at the conference.” For now, it is set aside. 

Soon you realize that gaining control of some job requirements only finds more work right behind it. It’s like a never-ending wave. The days pass quickly and before you know it, it’s the end of the week, month, or quarter. In the back of your mind, you know that the knowledge from the conference would make your job easier, make you more effective and results-driven, but you never get to applying it. 

Before you know it, almost a year goes by and you are again considering and possibly preparing to participate in the next ASTD conference. The vicious cycle repeats itself. 

Another way to approach a conference 

Let’s regroup. The post-conference euphoria or PCE was the motivation for you to apply these newly found skills, but it ended up that the euphoria was just that…euphoria. Once it wore off, the conference takeaways slipped lower down your list of priorities. This is a great lesson to apply to participants in your learning events. As training professionals, your goal is to ensure that participants not only learn and retain knowledge (Levels 1 and 2) but actually apply it and achieve specific business objectives (Levels 3 and 4). But as you can see from this example, your participants can let new knowledge and skills slip away with work demands. The expectations you have for the participants in your training are the same expectations your organization has for you participating at the ASTD conference. 

Few training professional consistently achieve Level 3, let alone Level 4, for their learning initiatives, but senior stakeholders expect them to do so. This is because all business activities (including training) are expected to contribute to improved performance (Level 3) leading to business results (Level 4). The struggle you face in applying the great skills acquired from the conference are the same struggles you face aligning your learning initiatives with Level 3 and 4 expectations. You really need to capitalize on what you learned at the conference so your company’s investment pays off. You must find time to reflect, digest, and integrate the skills acquired into your daily activities and learning initiatives, even if it is only one specific skill. Take an additional day to do this, even at the expense of having some tasks pile up on your desk. 

It is critical to change your behavior and to make the organization’s decision for you to participate in any conference worthwhile. Not only will your organization see the relevance, but you will also be able to justifiably support your professional development and demonstrate at minimum Level 3 results.  

Please share you experience on how you applied and integrated the skills you learned participating in a conference. We are all here to learn from each other, and we wish you much success in your post-conference efforts.


© 2012 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.