Conference season is coming up, when hundreds of journalists will get together in spots across the country, including in Baltimore this September. We hope to see you there! Ideas will be exchanged and experiences shared. Spending two or three days with like-minded professionals can be a great chance to refresh, recharge and regroup your newsroom strategy. It’s important to step away from day-to-day deadlines every once in a while to think bigger picture. But it can also be overwhelming to land in a busy conference hotel with thousands of other curious journalists and hundreds of hours of training sessions to choose from. Here are some things you can do to make the most of your time away from the newsroom.
Set specific goals
Set specific, concrete goals before you arrive. Identify one or two skill areas you’d like to improve for yourself, a career goal or a newsroom problem you’d like to address. Plan your schedule based on the goals you have outlined. You’ll keep focused and likely come away with more solid takeaways than you would coming in without a plan.
Get out of your comfort zone
Primarily plan to attend training sessions that align with the goals you’ve outlined or that follow a specific track (EIJ18 tracks include newsroom management, digital, newsgathering and career development) and add them to your schedule before you arrive so you’re ready to dive right in.
Set a couple of training slots aside to try something out of your comfort zone. Pick something that has always sounded interesting but doesn’t necessarily align with your job role. Attend a session a colleague back home would love. You’ll broaden your perspective, meet people you might not otherwise and definitely learn something new.
Plan 75% of your schedule
It’s also a good idea to leave a little downtime in your schedule. At most events, you’ll find activities available every moment from when you wake up until you hit the pillow again. It’s ok to skip a few! If you’re an introvert, you’ll want to plan an hour here and there to get away from the rush and decompress. Maybe take an hour to venture into the city to explore the Baltimore Inner Harbor’s bustling waterfront. You’ll absorb new information better when you’re not overtired.
Divide and conquer
At any conference, it will be impossible to attend every session that sounds interesting or has a trainer you love, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on sessions you can’t attend. Bring a colleague or connect via conference app with other attendees with similar goals, then divide the sessions between you. Get together at the end of each day to exchange notes. You’ll retain what you’ve learned better by teaching it to someone else, and you’ll come away with the takeaways from more sessions than you could attend on your own.
Take advantage of hallway meetings
Professional trainers with thought-provoking presentations offer only part of the knowledge available at conferences and training events. Often, the most lasting connections and lightbulb moments occur in the hallways after scheduled sessions. Take advantage! After sessions, stick around for a few minutes. Talk to at least one or two other people who attended: maybe someone asked a particularly poignant question or mentioned facing a similar problem you are. Make a connection!
Apply what you learn
Immediately after every session, write down three specific things you will do when you get back to your newsroom based on what you’ve learned. Even if you’ve taken notes throughout, you may not remember the exact context going back over your notes later. By writing action items right away, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when you get back to your newsroom. You’ll better absorb the trainers’ takeaways, and, by keeping the goals you outlined in mind, you’ll make each session’s lessons immediately applicable.
You owe it to yourself and to your newsroom to be continuously learning and adapting. Attending a journalism conference, like Excellence in Journalism, is one of the best ways to do that. When done right, with a plan, you’ll come away refreshed, recharged and ready to get back to work.
More: Al Tompkins' top 4 conference tips