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Conference Learning Objectives Checklist

Continuous education and professional development is a must, for planners to maintain a competitive edge.

Continuous education and professional development is a must, for planners to maintain a competitive edge. Below are some tips on how to set personal learning objectives, and what to look for generally, before attending a conference or other professional-development session. By Jennifer Wood, April 18, 2011

Jennifer Wood

Jennifer Wood

Assess your ‘personal return on investment’ (ROI). Planners assess their personal return on investment with the same set of eyes they use in selecting a speaker for their clients’ events. They hold the organizing group up to the same standards they hold themselves, if not more so. Perhaps this is because planners need to be accountable to many stakeholders when they opt to attend a conference, networking or education session. If you work for yourself, you need to pay out of pocket. If you work for an organization, you need to gain approval before attending, often having to file a report upon completion.Regardless of who is paying your salary, time out of the office means time away from project productivity. And if scrutiny shows that the ROI isn’t there, future requests will be quashed.

Planners should consider accreditation renewal requirements. CMP/CMM recipients must have completed several professional development courses within five years of accreditation.

If you have exhausted the channels of one organization, mix it up by trying another association. If you’re a member of MPI, attend a session with PCMA, Site, etc., for new experiences and contacts.

Set learning goals. Planners need/want to walk away having learned more than they knew before. And for senior planners who have ‘been there, done that,’ that’s a tall order. Once the basics have been mastered, much of what expands a planner’s arsenal is gained through direct experience.Session/education goals worth setting include:

– Anything that makes your job easier, faster and thus, more efficient.
– Information/ideas you can pass along directly to your clients, e.g. unique food and beverage ideas; cost-saving options; sponsorship benefits.
– Take away one to three pieces of useful information to improve your, or your client’s, product offering.
– Beyond session content, you can set other goals, such as expanding your network, making a contact(s) that you can use later.

Don’t socialize! Sometimes experienced, well-connected planners fall into the trap of using industry events as a means to catch up and socialize with friends; however, setting a goal of meeting three new people, and following up to thank them for the introduction within a week of the conference, is a worthwhile and achievable target.

Increase your technology knowledge base. Technology is evolving at a faster rate than ever before. To that end, planners need to stay abreast of the trends. Therefore, seek out hands-on education sessions showcasing technology or processes that will make business more efficient, more creative and simpler. From my perspective, if I see that, for instance, James Spellos is running a conference workshop, I will choose to a end his lab-style sessions, because I have come to trust his expertise and what it can teach me. Also, I know that there will be computers set up and that I can literally get my hands on what’s new in the world of technology.

Session Tips

Follow these criteria to make sure each conference, and individual education session, meets your needs.

  • Identify the expertise level of the prospective session (junior, senior, expert).
  • Look for sessions that present the ‘latest and greatest.’
  • Consider taking some refresher courses to fine-tune out-of-date information.
  • Are cross-generational/cross-functional networking opportunities offered?
  • Look for those sessions that are interactive and get attendees involved and moving.
  • Seek out lab-style technology sessions that offer hands-on equipment.
  • Gravitate to sessions featuring reputable speakers.

— Guest columnist Jennifer Wood, BA, CMP, is president, Convene Inc. ( and executive producer and host,

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