Get the Most from Your Conference Experience
Are you heading to a conference soon? We’re coming up on conference season for many organizations. I observe most people not getting their full value out of the process. I will share why at the end of this post.
I have my own schedule. In April alone, I will be keynoting at the following programs:
April 9, Waterloo, IA for the Valve Manufacturers Association of America on Tactics of Lean Innovation.
April 19, Orlando, FL for the American Machine Tool Distributors Association annual meeting on Understanding Lean Thinking.
April 20, Tampa, FL for the Printing Industries of America continuous improvement conference on Developing People with A3 Thinking.
Also in April is one of my favorite programs that I often recommend to people, the Industry Week Best Plants Conference. I am on the Board of Advisors for this program as I feel it is well done and a good mix of topics. I’ve heard speakers on topics from union-management partnerships at Harley-Davidson to building a safety culture to strategic planning. Numerous tours are often scheduled that cover large and small companies such as Miller and Dana.
I’ve spoken the last 3 years so I’ll give everyone a break this year, but this year’s conference held April 19-21 in Cleveland, OH has many great topics. Tours include Jergens, Timken, Ford, Alcoa, and Lincoln Electric. Interesting speakers include John Ferriola, the COO of Nucor, and James W. Griffith the President and CEO of The Timken Company. As with any conference, there will some variation in the quality of delivery. There are certainly some weaker lean topics. One topic that a lot of companies are interested in is Integration of Best Practices across Multiple Manufacturing Sites by Charles Parke, Lecturer, The University of Tennessee. Another topic I find interesting is Reverse Logistics: What To Do When Product Comes Back by Mike Powell, Sr. Manager, Strategic Planning, Canon Virginia, Inc. Not easy topics. Here is the overall program schedule.
So how do you get the most of your experience at a conference?
Remember that your objective is learning. This isn’t a vacation. Your company spent the money and you committed the time so that you could learn. Yes, there might be some fun stuff to do wherever you’re going. It’s fine to have fun too. But let that get in the way of your purpose: learning.
Define in advance your learning objectives. Go through the agenda, and plan what you will attend. I’m surprised how many people are sitting there at the opening keynote deciding what to do. Look at the agenda, sit down with the team, and plan where the best learning can occur. Do this in advance and you’ll get more from your investment.
3. Spread Out
Most of you will be attending with other colleagues from the same company. And you will also act as if you had a rope tied around you keeping you in a pack. This diminishes the overall benefit of your organization’s learning. Spread out. See different topics. Then you compare notes later.
4. Take Action
Neither your customers nor your shareholders care that you attended XYZ conference. They care that you’ve improved the company. This only comes with action. BEFORE you return to your organization, determine what actions you can take based on what you learned. I recommend keeping this list in a separate part of your notebook so that you can easily return to it and share with others.
So enjoy the conference, and I hope to see you at one of them.