Conference Priming: Let’s Get Ready To Learn

“I recall that you had sent out (or more likely attached as a link) a really helpful worksheet to get the most of the conference. Could you send it to me? I’ve got some staff gearing up for state and national conferences this summer, and I’d like them to be much more focused on what they hope to learn and bring back. Just spending a few minutes with your worksheet helped me get more out of your conference.”  

I’ve been thinking a lot about the e-book, Conferences That Make A Difference, which I co-wrote with Mark Nilles. We have a webinar coming up on November 6, and so I’ve been reflecting on what big lessons I have learned since making the shift to seeing conferences as learning events. There are many.

The effort to paint our house with primer meant that the final coat of paint lasted much longer.

Priming is certainly at the top of the list. This is the practice of getting people ready to learn, through information, a planner, a reading list, or pre-conference connections with fellow participants. I picture myself as a child, watching my father slap primer on the clapboards of our 1840 Cape Cod home, ensuring that the paint would better hold on to the weather-worn wood. We have the ability as conference planners to dip our brushes into a paint can full of preparatory activities designed to bring our conferences into full and lasting color. 

One of the reasons why I appreciate priming so much is that it is as much about them as it is about my chance to engage in the content of the conference. I put logistics aside and indulge in the chance to read articles across the range of conference topics to curate a recommended reading list. I work with our graphic designer to create tools that inspire the artist in everyone. I play around with the narrative of the day in developing planning tools for individuals and teams. It’s creative work that rides on the  exhilaration that comes in anticipating the big event. It broadcasts to everyone coming that they are in a for a day that takes seriously its place in their larger learning calendar.

If you plan conferences—or regularly attend them—I hope you will consider joining Mark and me on November 6. We will be sharing our work on learningful conferences and engaging you in a conversation with colleagues from across the country. Register here

“Please thank your team for being so intentional in creating a great learning environment where people feel prepared and ready to learn.  It works so well when we ask ourselves, “What will great look like?/What do we want? For whom? What will it take? and What will this make possible?”

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