Conferences or sessions, courses or meetings – ongoing professional development and learning is a cornerstone to a successful career. Much like any association relationship, what we get out of these opportunities can be enhanced by what we put into it.

When registering or choosing a session, it is typical to find a description of the content to be shared – and, in better cases, actual learning objectives. If we simply show up, these objectives will (hopefully) be the new content/ideas we will take away by the end of your time. Yet, by dedicating just a small amount of time, creativity and structure, we have a better chance of walking away with concepts and innovative ideas that could be game changers:

1. Going from master to guru

Where do you already rock at your job? Where are those places that people come to you to be an internal consultant? When we are good at something, we don’t always prioritize it as a learning priority – yet, by doing so, we can further refine a core strength to create a voice of leadership and insight not just within our company, but possibly in the industry. Do you see any advance/master level sessions that will provide the +1 learning you want to see? Prioritize those.

2. Focusing on interest

OK, so you know where you already excel; what do you want to learn about where you don’t? Whether it is part of your current job description or feeds into a potential future opportunity, you should also choose a number of sessions that will stretch you into your “new” zone. Get a taste and explore; does the subject area interest you? Is it worth it to invest more time?

3. Know how you learn

Do you cringe when you walk into a session and see theater seating? Does a facilitated hour of speed networking sound fun? We each have our preferred learning approaches and settings. Know where and how you learn best, and take that into consideration when choosing a session – even when you walk into it.

4. Capture ideas

What if you took notes in Twitter-like conditions (or on Twitter, using the conference hashtag)? Seriously, as you are in a session, try to capture main concepts and ideas in 140 characters or less. This will force you to distill what you learn into bite-size segments for further exploration after the session. When you are home and recall an amazing session, these key concepts will be ready at your fingertips for further consideration and incorporation to your daily work life.

5. Teach

Know what one of the best ways to learn is? It is to teach what you have just been taught. Come back to your office and share your key findings with your team, your supervisor or even the whole office. If you captured ideas in short format, as described in No. 4, it is not a far leap to make a top 10 lessons learned. This exercise (besides practicing skills in public speaking) will reinforce what you actually learned.

6. Define success

Go into your learning with tangible goals. You want to come back with 10 solid ideas to share. You want to come back with three different ways to approach your current subject area. You want to come back having met and connected with 5 new colleagues. You may be able to meet (and surpass!) any of these goals, and they will guide you where you should be placing effort and be a tangible take-home to your supervisor to demonstrate what you accomplished.

Lowell Aplebaum, CAE is the CEO and Strategy Catalyst of Vista Cova – a company that partners with organizations on strategic visioning and planning, creating stronger stakeholder connections, and reimagining value and engagement. Lowell frequently provides dynamic sessions to organizations – conducting deep-dive interviews and getting members and volunteers involved through experiential learning approaches. He currently serves as the Chair-Elect for the overseeing commission for the Certified Association Executive certification, and Chaired ASAE’s Task Force on CEO Pathways. He is the creator of a master-level learning series called Through the CEO Lens and Association Charrette – a co-creation retreat experience. His work on global efforts for associations has included experience across five continents, hundreds of volunteer groups, and all 50 states in the U.S.

Lowell Aplebaum, CAE is the CEO and Strategy Catalyst of Vista Cova – a company that partners with organizations on strategic visioning and planning, creating stronger stakeholder connections, and reimagining value and engagement. Lowell frequently provides dynamic sessions to organizations – conducting deep-dive interviews and getting members and volunteers involved through experiential learning approaches. He currently serves as the Chair-Elect for the overseeing commission for the Certified Association Executive certification, and Chaired ASAE’s Task Force on CEO Pathways. He is the creator of a master-level learning series called Through the CEO Lens and Association Charrette – a co-creation retreat experience. His work on global efforts for associations has included experience across five continents, hundreds of volunteer groups, and all 50 states in the U.S.

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