Today, I sit in anticipation of next week's FETC, a technology conference in Orlando. Every corpuscle of my mind and body is preparing for a week of immersion into professional learning with my tribe, my fellow library/media specialists and techy people in education. I eagerly await the opportunities that I will find there.
I know it can be a hurtle to leaving your building to go to a conference. We think we can't get away because so much will not be completed without us. But, how can we improve if we don't focus on our own professional learning? I remind myself every year that my attendance matters not only to me but also to those who will benefit from my learning. Here are ten reasons why you should make this leap:
1. Finding Motivation. What can I say? From the moment I enter the door to the opening keynote speaker until the end where I stumble back to my car, I am excited and cannot wait to learn. The banter, the conversations, the signs, the booths, the displays, the learning all energize me.
I become ready to take on the world and try something new or find a renewed love for an idea that had been laid to the side for lack of time. I am ready to run a new marathon after spending a few days in the company of fellow "runners."
3. Trends in the Profession. New ideas are first shared at conferences, discussed, and then written about later in journals and in blogs. Conferences are frequently the incubator for new and valuable methodologies to develop. At conferences, people loosen up and share their successes and failures and we begin to recognize trends of behavior and find new solutions to old problems. This is where the key issues in the industry may be found.
4. Meet new vendors and suppliers. I know most of us generally don't enjoy talking to sales people, but the trade show exhibit hall is a proving ground for products that we would use in our profession. Go out there. Explore. Watch some product demos. Enter some drawings. Tell vendors what you like and dislike about their products. Trust me, they are listening and they want to provide products that we will buy and use.
5. Focus on Practice. Ask yourself, what do I need to learn today? You may find in attending a session that you find a new way of doing something. Look for those sessions that meet your needs in the place that you are at currently. This is your opportunity to explore or survey an idea with low commitment. The conference is your oyster.
6. Opportunities. Are you underemployed or not employed in your chosen field? Do you want to step into a different area in your field? Would you like to move to another region of the country or in your state? A conference may be the place to make the connection for an interview or job application. You may just meet your next boss!
7. Position Yourself as an Expert. Do you have an excellent program to share? Would you like to break into public speaking? It is not going to happen from your armchair at home. Attending conferences is the first step in establishing yourself as active in the industry. Before you will be invited to speak, you must develop a reputation as an expert. This will not happen at home. Attend conferences, but also apply to present. Look around at what is being presented and find what you are good at or what is missing, and offer worthwhile sessions. You may be delivering the keynote someday.
8. Published and Publishing. Sometimes, the latest and greatest book on what we wanted to learn about is found first at a conference. Or...you have decided you would like to write a book. The conference may be just the place to run your idea by a publisher or two in the field and see if there is some traction for your idea. When are you going to get the chance otherwise?
9. Commitment to Profession. Your profession needs you. Have you considered volunteering to serve your profession at a conference? Not only will you develop those leadership skills, you will be looking at the conference from a different perspective. In addition, you might also get a paid admission free, a cool t-shirt, and a lasting memorable experience that serves your learning community.
10. Have Fun. Careful, you just might like it. Conferences allow us to approach our profession from a different angle mixing the social element into many learning opportunities and an occasional side trip to a theme park, golfing, or an afternoon by the pool in order to maximize the travel time you are taking away from work. Don't worry, you earned it.
So get out there. Find a conference in your field. Sign up. Make your travel plans and attend. Ask questions. Share your insights and you may just find that you have learned something new! See you on the Exhibit floor!