Thursday, 29 September 2011

Thing 15: No conferring

Conferences are brilliant aren't they? You get to take a day (or more!) away from the office. You get to meet, chat and network with new people and hear about the latest developments and practices in your field. You get to learn about what people in other libraries and other sectors are doing, and share your own experiences with them. If you're particularly lucky, the lunchtime buffet will include those little chicken satay sticks; and maybe some posh tortilla wrap things; and for afters a mahoosive fruit platter, which everybody ignores in favour of the mini muffins. And you might get some freebies: a pen, for example, or a triangular highlighter, or those weird little tins of mints that I'm sure nobody ever actually eats. Yes, who can honestly say that they don't love a good conference?

*raises hand sheepishly*

I do occasionally attend events and conferences, but probably not as many as I should and I do find them somewhat challenging. Here are the reasons and, because I don't want to be all Captain Bringdown, in each case I'm going to consider whether there are any tools, practices and information I've picked up during cpd23 that could help me to get more out of events in the future.

Reason 1

The problem: As I have noted previously, I'm terrible for neglecting to follow-up or consolidate any of my learning from training and other events - all the handouts and notes get carefully filed in the bottom of a drawer and I never look at them again.

The solution: The emphasis on reflective practice in Thing 5 was particularly useful and if I make the time afterwards to think about what I've learned from events I attend I can write up my reflections as a short report and post it on this blog. I can also use my beloved Evernote to record notes, reflections and action points from events I attend (and I think if you have a suitably app-ed up smartphone you can just scan your pages straight into Evernote).

Reason 2 

The problem: I know attending a conference is supposed to inspire you and send you back to the workplace with lots of exciting new ideas, but actually I find that even the best, most interesting event has the opposite effect: for me going to a conference is enervating rather than energising, and I usually find that by the 3pm coffee break both I and my small talk are exhausted and I'm longing to go home. I'm sure this has something to do with being an introvert, as the bigger the event the more pronounced the effect: the mere thought of going to one of the mega-conferences like Umbrella makes me sag at the knees slightly. 

The solution: There are lots of useful tips in Jo Alcock's post on Networking for introverts. And once I've mastered those, I can move it up a gear into the realms of Introverts' Power Networking, to which there is an entire blog dedicated. I also liked the first tip in Archelina's post for this Thing - "make sure you build in 'alone' time for reflection/recuperation" - and will try to do this in future.

Reason 3

The problem: I don't wish to come across all "chippy Northerner", but quite often the big conferences and events are held a long way from where I live, so you can add an eight hour round trip and upwards of a hundred and twenty quids' worth of train fares to the cost of attending (it's usually not my money that's being spent, but I still find it irksome).

The solution: Er, move house? Actually, I realise I'm just moaning for the sake of moaning here - I know that lots of people will be in the same position (and might even be going to international conferences) and that if you feel the event is going to be valuable to you then you will make the time and find the money to attend. However, since I've joined Twitter and begun following numerous blogs as part of cpd23 I've discovered that it's possible to follow a lot of conferences online, via Twitter hashtags and reading people's follow-up blogposts. It was also interesting to see that this year's CILIP AGM, which took place last week, was broadcast via a live stream on their website (it's a shame though that a recording of it is not still online). I know these channels are not an exact substitute for the face-to-face contact you get from attending events in person, but in a lot of cases they might be good enough for me.

I think the overall message to take away from this is that planning and preparation is vital if you're to make the most of any conference or event. You need to make time to think beforehand about what you want to get out of the conference and decide how you're going to make the best use of your time while you're there. Then, once you've returned you need to set aside some time to think about, write up and hopefully implement things that you've learned from the conference. 

I'm going to the RSP's Autumn School in a few weeks' time and, despite my moaning above, I am looking forward to it and to meeting fellow repository types from across the country. I'm going to use the lessons and advice above to make sure I really get the most out of the event. 


  1. Really interesting post, and thanks for linking to my post about networking for introverts :)

    I would definitely encourage you to schedule downtime during conferences, and although it's good practice to try to write notes as you go and reflect after each session/day, don't let it stress you out if you're too exhausted. I often find I need more time to reflect and actually now sometimes prefer leaving it a little while before I write up any reflective blog posts (otherwise I just end up reporting on the whole thing which I don't find as useful to look back on).

  2. I almost voiced a hearty AMEN when I read your post. I do enjoy conferences although I go to few. You summed up what I think. And yet...Conferences are still worth while if well chosen.

  3. @Jo - Thanks and you're welcome! Interesting point about when to write up afterwards - sounds like there's a balance to be struck between leaving a bit of time for some reflection vs. leaving it so long that you never get round to doing it (my usual approach).

    @Susie - Pleased I'm not the only one! But yes, I agree that conferences can be useful and even enjoyable once you're there - I suppose it pays to put a bit of thought into whether the conference will meet your interests or needs when deciding whether to attend or not.

  4. Really well-written and I totally get where you're coming from. And thanks for linking back to my post :)

    Looking forward to meeting you/trying to keep you awake at the Winter School!

  5. @Archel Ta! I promise I will try not to be such a grump about conferences when I'm actually attending one.