The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Want the Best Conference Experience? Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks!

airplane-laptopYou know, sometimes when you are innocently engaged in in-flight activities — such as making small talk and apologizing for accidentally hitting the passenger next to you with your laptop halfway through a 4.5 hour flight — somebody says something or does something that really gets you thinking. Fortunately for me (probably unfortunately for those around me), it was my own [unspoken] words and action that got me thinking. On my first flight, I reached down to scratch my leg only to accidentally scratch the leg of the gentlemen in the seat next to me. Normally I would apologize or make a joke out of the situation, but this time I froze, looked straight ahead for the rest of my flight, and jetted as soon as I could upon landing. So needless to say, I had time to think. In reflecting on the first flight’s mishap during my second flight, I thought about the irony of the fact that I bumped the girl next to me while taking out my laptop to work on a presentation I am co-facilitating entitled “Crash Course” about how to establish a meaningful career in higher ed HR. While I almost took the inadvertent risk of explaining to her why I was getting my laptop out in the first place, better judgment stopped me in the nick of time. No matter the context, saying the word “crash” on a plane elicits responses similar to that of other flight no-nos, such as “bomb” or “gun” (this may seem like common sense to most, but I find that it’s surprisingly easy to think or say a normally innocent word and have it take on an entirely different meaning). I have the tendency to occasionally word vomit, and am known in some circles to be, well, blunt. And I am not exactly soft-spoken. Luckily this time, I prevented a potential run-in with air marshals and the very thin filter that I do have kicked in right before I began to verbalize my thoughts. I averted the risk associated with joking that I hoped that my “Crash Course” session wouldn’t “crash and burn.” But it got me thinking about the whole conference season and how that in order to learn more, do more, get more, and achieve more as a result of conference attendance, you will have to risk more.

Remember: not all risks are bad. It’s called risk management for a reason … you weigh the risk with the reward and take action accordingly. So, to develop yourself and learn more, take some [calculated] risks at your next conference. Here are some “risky” behaviors that you can engage in while at your next conference or professional meeting that might help you get more out of the experience.

  • Put yourself out there and sit with people you don’t know during meals or breaks. And actually engage in conversation — don’t just sit there silently shoveling your chicken breast and rice pilaf in your mouth, because you can’t (or rather, your mother told you that you shouldn’t) talk if your mouth is full.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions during sessions. The presenter is likely praying that you do, if anything just to know that the crowd is awake/alive. And others in the room are hoping that you will as well.
  • Sit towards the front of the room. I know this is counter-intuitive for those raised as “back-row Baptists;” but the hidden benefits are twofold. First, you won’t have a problem hearing the presenter(s) or seeing the visuals. Secondly, you can eavesdrop on the follow-up conversations that occur as fellow attendees are walking out. I know this sounds dubious. But I have found that some of my best takeaways and the things that made me really think about the content I just absorbed came from hearing how people would use what was presented, or supplementing the material with their own comments while exiting a session. Don’t worry: they’re usually so enthralled with chatting with each other while simultaneously walking that they’ll likely never notice you listening in!

So, while I don’t necessarily endorse the risks associated with the unprompted scratching of the leg of the person next to you or saying certain off-limit words out loud, I wholeheartedly endorse taking risks at conferences for the sake of getting more out of the experience.

Happy Conferencing!