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Conference Reflections: A Recap of ATD22 (and Implications for Talent Development)

Well, the 2022 ATD International Conference & Exposition is a wrap, and this gathering of around 8,500 talent development professionals (comprising in-person attendees in Orlando, Florida and virtual attendees globally) was certainly one to remember. As I reflected on these three days in mid-May, I was struck by the parallels between the conference and what we are seeing in client workplaces and learning experiences. So, I wanted to share some realizations and lessons learned during the course of this three-day experience—as well as what it means for talent development professionals.

It’s so, so good to reconnect in person.

I work from home and, despite spending many years as a frequent flyer, hadn’t traveled in over two years. Suffice it to say I was ready for some face-to-face interaction, and I know I wasn’t alone! I heard so many stories of colleagues who had never met or hadn’t seen each other in over two years. I myself met in person with colleagues and clients whom I’d only ever seen previously via Teams meetings. I reconnected with former classmates and coworkers, and even met some favorite authors and thought leaders. However, the impact of COVID was still present: many still wore masks, on-site testing was available, and hand sanitizer was a hot giveaway item in the expo hall.

Implications for talent development: If possible and safe, consider an in-person gathering and maximize every moment. In doing so, however, consider the possible risks related to COVID exposure and outbreak and how the virus has changed the way we connect with others. Be respectful of the needs and preferences of others when it comes to health and wellness protocols.

And yet … Hybrid is the new reality.

Reduced in-person attendance and a strong showing for the virtual option mirror what we’re seeing in work environments. It was almost as if two parallel events were happening at once. Virtual and on-site attendees were linked through hashtags, video feeds, and a conference app—allowing us to share the experience simultaneously. The technology that enabled the virtual experience also adds value to me as an in-person attendee. In the past, if there were two sessions I wanted to attend scheduled for the same time, the best I could do was divide and conquer with a colleague then share notes afterwards. With slide share and on-demand recorded sessions, I’ve been able to extend my conference experience by catching up on what I wasn’t able to attend live while in Orlando.

Implications for talent development: What are we doing to create effective hybrid learning experiences for those who travel and those who don’t? Is the experience equitable, and is that even a realistic goal? How are we using technology to elevate and enhance our learning experiences—yet, how can we be sure we aren’t leaning on it too heavily?

Inspiration abounds both inside and outside of our field.

Whether it’s flipping your script to overcome failure like Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, or incorporating mindfulness practices like author and former monk, Jay Shetty, many transferable practices and behaviors were shared that can impact learners and talent development professionals. I certainly felt inspired and appreciated the reminder that professionally applicable insights exist in many areas of life and work that I hadn’t previously considered.

Implications for talent development: Can we sometimes be too insular, taking lessons only from those within our field? How can we continue learning from other fields? What can we do to translate lessons into actionable practices for ourselves and our learners?

Investing in yourself is critical.

As talent development professionals, we often give our all investing time and effort in others—but not so much in ourselves. It was uncomfortable to leave my day-to-day work behind for a few days, and coordinating work coverage, childcare, and home logistics was no easy feat. But I’m so happy to have had the time and space to learn, connect, and share. I returned to work a bit tired but reinvigorated and inspired. Now the challenge, just like many of our learning experiences, comes in ensuring we apply that motivation to our day-to-day work.

Implications for talent development: Have you filled your own cup lately? What have you done recently to develop, challenge, or educate yourself? How can we keep learning and motivation alive after inspiring experiences?

It’s important to have fun.

Plinko in the expo hall. Informal team dinners. Networking happy hours. Even a day trip to Universal Studios. No, I’m not trying to make anyone envious, but the fun side of ATD22 definitely added to the experience. On a personal level, seeing people outside the usual business setting helped us get to know each other better and deepened existing connections. I definitely worked hard and learned a lot while I was away, but the ability to decompress and build relationships in the process was a huge bonus.

Implications for talent development: Informal experiences matter. What fun can we build into our events and our day-to-day work environment? How can we infuse some lightness and connection into our learning experiences?

Take a moment to reflect.

When you invest the time and effort to take part in a conference or multiday learning experience, it’s so easy to fly home and immediately dive back into your normal routine, addressing your neglected inbox and playing catch-up. Heck, that’s what I did. But at some point (the sooner, the better), you have to make time to give thought to your experience: appreciate how out of the norm it was and what inspired you, and note which aspects you want to start incorporating into your own work moving forward. That simple practice of reflection will carry you through to the next big event—and make your work life better in the meantime.

About the Authors

Katy Bailey

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