Going to conferences is fun.
You get away from the chaos of the office for a while. You get to meet cool new people. You hear fresh ideas and new ways of doing things. Maybe you even get some free goodies in the exhibit hall.
Then the conference ends and you head home. And as you travel, you start to dread the piles of emails, voicemail and paperwork that you know is waiting for you.
When you get back, you immediately dive in, trying to recover from being gone. It’s like hacking through a jungle trying to get through everything.
Sometimes it just seems like it’s not worth leaving because you get too far behind.
Meanwhile, all your notes and precious new ideas go to waste because you just can’t seem to find time to implement them.
It happens to all of us from time to time. For some of us, it happens nearly every time.
So what can you do?
Try these 7 ideas for getting the most out of your nonprofit conference experience and training investment.
1. Set goals. What do you want to walk away from the training with? Are you looking to learn something specific? Or just looking for new ideas? Do you need affirmation that you’re on the right path? It’s a good idea to be as clear and specific as possible about what you want to have learned once the training event is over.
2. Support your learning style. Do you prefer taking notes with pen and paper? Then invest in a dollar store journal so you can keep all your notes from the conference in one place. Like taking notes on a laptop? Create a file for your notes where you can easily find them later. If the conference offers recordings of the sessions, you might consider getting those so you can review them again later (you’ll tend to forget things over time and listening to a session again can help you remember the details).
3. Make a list of 3 key nuggets. For every breakout session you attended, make a list of 3 key takeaways. What were your big AHAs from the session? Highlight them in your notes so you can easily find them later.
4. Make an Action Item list. At the end of the conference, go back through your notes and make a list of Action Items – those things you really want to try out. Once you’ve captured them all, pick the top 3 to start with. Pick ONE and list out the actions that will need to happen. Then put the first action on your calendar. For example, if your Action Item is to start a monthly giving program, the first step might be to research other nonprofits like yours that have monthly giving to see how they do it. Add that to your “to do” list for the coming week.
5. Reach out with questions.
Don’t be afraid to email a speaker for clarification or to ask a question. Many speakers are happy to help you out with a question or two, and if they aren’t, you haven’t lost anything.
6. Connect on social media. Remember all those cool people you met at the training? Connect with them on social media so you can stay in touch. Chances are good that the folks you sat beside are trying to implement the same things you are. You might see them doing something really cool that you can try, too.
7. Share what you learned.
Be sure to share your biggest takeaways with your co-workers and Board. It not only helps them learn a little something, but shows that you got a good return on investment for the event. This might also be a good time to thank your Board for sending you to the training.
The main thing is to DO SOMETHING with what you just learned. The sooner, the better.
Otherwise, it was just a fun time. And fun times don’t fund your life-changing work.