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5 Ways To Make the Most Of Your Next Conference

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If you asked most people why they attend conferences, they would probably say, "to learn from the speakers." That's certainly an important element. But you can get even more out of your next conference by dedicating time to learning from your peers as well.

At the conferences I attend, when I look around the room, I see a wealth of knowledge -- and it's not all at the podium. Every attendee has something to share. Some may have a nugget of wisdom, specifically relevant to you, that boosts your career or inspires you to change directions.

To create an environment that encourages attendees to connect with each other, The Chang School has partnered with E-180 to facilitate "brain dates" at the second annual ChangSchoolTalks 2016 to be held on Wednesday, February 17. This partnership is based on our shared belief that education is undergoing a process of reinvention in the 21st century, and that an hour of one person's time can change another person's life.

The brain date platform is an innovative way to find the right people to network with, based on website profiles, a matchmaking algorithm and professional on-site facilitators. Once a match is found, the one-on-one meetings can be focused and productive because both people already know quite a lot about each other's skills and experience. As a result, they can quickly zero in on areas of intersection and potential collaboration.

Here are five tips that will help you make the most of the potential peer learning opportunities at your next conference:

1. Identify three strengths you can share

No matter what stage your career is at, you have skills and ideas that may complete the puzzle for someone else -- allowing you to work together to create a new solution to a challenge. Knowledge can move up and down the org chart.

2. Identify three gaps in your knowledge

Think about the resources you need to complete a significant project or achieve a career goal. What stumbling blocks or obstacles could a fresh insight help you to overcome?

3. Research the attendees as well as the speakers

Find out as much as you can about everyone who will be at the conference. Be open to the possibility that someone outside your industry may be just the contact you need to make progress on a project or in your career.

4. Chat with as many people as possible

Group discussions during breaks and at lunchtime can reveal areas you want to explore in more depth in one-on-one conversations. Set those one-on-one meetings up quickly - either during the conference or very soon afterwards.

5. Apply what you've learned and move forward

Don't let key lessons and important potential relationships evaporate in the "catch-up" frenzy that often follows a few days away from work. Put what you've learned into practice, and strengthen your expanding network by letting your new contacts know how they've helped you.

Every conference you attend can be powerful and even life-changing because of the people it brings together, and with some advance preparation and concepts like brain dates you can curate your own learning experience. The key is to take the perspective, as The Chang School does, that education is fundamentally a collaborative process, and to welcome every learning opportunity - including those offered by your peers.

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