Post-Conference Meltdown…Why Training Professionals Don’t Apply What They Learn?

Ajay M. Pangarkar and Teresa Kirkwood

So…it’s been just over one week since the “mother” of all workplace learning conferences took place. The ASTD International Conference and Expo (or as the regulars know it, ICE) is the leading and largest conference in the training space.

This is not to take away the great efforts placed by other conferences (most of them I enjoy) but ICE is IT! ICE attracts the largest number of WLP professional and specialists from around the world…up to 10,000 participants at times. It also invites the most innovative and leading speakers to conduct workshops and concurrent sessions…including yours truly!

That being said, (and to no fault of ASTD ICE or any other conference) why is it that well meaning participants who invest heavily to attend the conference simply return to their jobs rarely applying the awesome new skills they’ve acquired? This is human nature and is what I like to call post-conference euphoria or PCE.

First off, let me say that that I am not a psychologist or human behavior specialist in any way. Here’s the deal…and this applies to most people who attend virtually any type of trade conference…you purchase attendance to the conference; you plan the travel and hotel requirements; you spend weeks reading and re-reading the conference session descriptions; you plan every hour of your conference attendance so that you make the most of what’s offered; and finally you plan your learning wish list to take back once the conference ends.

Sounds good in theory, right? Makes sense, right? Well, you probably completed every step in this process except for the last one. My guess is that you returned to your desk and, with a committed vigor, sought opportunities to apply most if not all of the learning from ICE. Then you looked around and saw the piles of work front of you. Or, your boss/peers/co-workers (pick one or more) got wind of your return and campaigned (a more polite term to “harassed”) you to help solve a problem or to get involved in some work initiative. Day 1 upon your return is a right off. You are feeling (or actually are) overwhelmed with the responsibilities in front of you so the ICE learning’s are set aside.

You return on day 2 with renewed vigor and renewed promise. Recognizing what hit you on day 1, you are more realistic applying the great ICE learning’s. But being a reasonable individual you sit back and quickly recognize that you are not “super-worker” and need to trim back your aspirations. So, rather than try to apply all the great skills you are judicious selecting the most relevant ICE skills to apply and scale back so that you can balance all demands on placed on you. But the demands of day 1 come back to haunt you and reality of day 2 compounds it further.

Day 3 (or 4) arrives…your will is further worn down. Your commitment is not as strong as on day 1. Being rational you make a conscious decision to set aside the ICE learning’s and realize that you need to take care of “business” first. Gaining control of the work demands and getting some of it off of your plate is job #1. You say to yourself, “Once I gain control I will then focus on all of the ICE learning’s.” So, now the ICE learning’s are set aside.

You quickly realize gaining control of some job requirements only finds more work right behind it. It’s like a never-ending tsunami. The days quickly go by and before you know it is the end of the week, month, or quarter. In the back of your mind, you know that the knowledge from ICE would make your job easier/effective/impressive/efficient/results-driven (pick one or more than one). But you never get to it. Before you know it, almost a year goes by and you are again considering and possibly preparing to participate in the next ASTD ICE. And now, the vicious cycle repeats itself.

So, let’s regroup for a minute. The post-conference euphoria or PCE was the motivation for you to apply these newly found skills but it ended up that the euphoria was just that…euphoria. Once it wore off with work reality the conference learning’s slipped lower and lower down your list of priorities.

This is a great lesson to apply to participants in your learning events. As training professionals, your goal is to ensure that the participants not only learn and retain knowledge (Levels 1 and 2) but to actually apply it and achieve specific business objectives (Levels 3 and 4). But like you post-conference, their learning’s also slip away with work demands. The expectations you have for the participants in your training are the same expectations your organization has for you participating at ASTD ICE.

Few training professional consistently achieve Level 3, let alone Level 4, for their learning initiatives but senior stakeholders expect them to do so. This is because all business activities (this includes training) are expected to contribute to improved performance (Level 3) leading to business results (Level 4). The struggle you face to apply the great skills acquired at ASTD ICE are the same as the struggles you face aligning your learning initiatives with Level 3-4 expectations.

But you really need to capitalize applying what you took away from ICE. Find time to reflect, digest, and integrate the skills acquired into your daily activities and learning initiatives. Take an additional day to do this even at the expense of having some tasks pile up on you. It is critical to change your behavior and to make the organization’s decision for you to participate in ICE worthwhile. Not only will your organization see the relevance but you will also be able to justifiably support your professional development and demonstrate at minimum Level 3 results.

Don’t follow the old adage of “Do as I say, not as I do”. Leverage the PCE you gained from participating in ICE. Lead by example and follow the new adage, “Do as I say and do as I do”!

I tend to live by one saying (which may help you), “If you’re NOT living life on the edge then you’re taking up too much space.” If you don’t understand this then drop me an email… but before you do, think about it first.

Please share how you have been able to leverage the PCE from ASTD ICE 2012 and how you’ve integrated these learning’s to achieve Level 3 results.

Much success in your post conference efforts!

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