Meetings

Conference Learning: Help Attendees Apply It Back at the Office

By / Jan 6, 2017 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Sure, you want your attendees to learn onsite, but you also want them to put their learning to work when they’re back on the job. Here are some ideas for making that happen.

Last month, I came across a blog posted by the National Conference Center (NCC) about six trends they had observed around experiential learning. Among them: barrier-free learning, which is hands-on training in a lab-like setting as opposed to the traditional meeting room, and learning by silence, where facilitators allow more time for reflection and meditation.

While all were interesting and definitely food for thought for association meeting planners, the one that jumped out at me was the sixth: learning through application.

“While debriefing is a structured process facilitated by a skilled professional throughout the process of a program, it has been in place for some time,” the post said. “Today a post-program application assists participants over time with how learning translates back at the office.”

NCC suggests a number of ways to facilitate this continued learning process, including self-directed debrief meetings, professional coaching sessions by phone or in person, and follow-up mini-sessions at the one-, two-, or three-month intervals.

“These sessions can be highly productive and fun, assisting the participants in real-time learning application issues,” NCC wrote. “They can be on the participant’s work site or scheduled as an offsite.”

While you may have thought your job was done when attendees walked out of that closing session, that’s no longer the case. Having a dedicated postconference learning application plan could set your meeting apart from others and show attendees that you are dedicated helping them put what they learned to work back at the office.

As NCC suggests, there could be several ways to make this happen. I came up with a few ideas myself.

The easiest of the batch is probably to send a postconference newsletter or email to attendees that offers tips and tools for how to best apply what they learned in the workplace. It might include a checklist of steps to take or even links back to session handouts or videos of the general sessions.

There’s nondues revenue potential in this strategy, too. For an additional fee, your association could offer attendees a “personalized learning application counselor” who would check in with them on a regular basis and discuss how they’re implementing what they learned onsite.

“Conference buddies” could also play a role. Some associations use a buddy system to help attendees connect while onsite. But what if you offered up buddies after your conference? In the following weeks or months, they could connect a few times over the phone or online—and hold each other accountable for what they learned and discuss how they are applying it at work.

Associations could even move beyond the buddy system and connect attendees in small groups (think 10 or 15 people) in locations across the country. That way, they could meet in person on a schedule of their choosing. Doing this will also give your members the chance to build deeper connections throughout the year.

How has your association helped attendees ensure they are applying what they learned at your conference back at the office? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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