We left our catamaran in a harbor on 19th of May to fly to the USA! I am attending a 4-day conference for Trainers, organized by ATD, the Association for Talent Development, which is the largest association for trainers in the world (300.000 members from 80 different countries!). And every year (for 80 years now!), they organize this conference where about 10.000 learning professionals (also coaches, e-learning designers, etc) will follow workshops during 4 days.
We can select during the 4 days out of 300 workshops that have a length of 1 hour. So you can attend about 15 sessions in total. Hard choice! I am one of the speakers and will give a session called ’10 Brain Boosters in Online Training’, to share my best experiences and tips as an online trainer. I have attended the ATD conference for the 5th time now and this will be my 4th time as a speaker.
The conference is officially called ‘ATD International Conference and Expo’. Attending this conference, there will be around 70 nationalities in San Diego (every year, the conference is held in a big city in the USA, like New York, Washington, Denver). Around 2.000 of the 10.000 visitors are from outside the USA. From the Netherlands and Belgium there is a group (called Delegation) this year of about 42 people. We call ourselves ‘Lowlands’ and this year also 4 trainers from the UK joined us! Some people I know already, because they have attended this conference before when I was there too. Or they are well known trainers in the Netherlands or Belgium, or suppliers or clients/organizations like Alliander, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, City of Amsterdam. But most of them, I got to know during the conference!
The largest delegation is from China, they have around 200 people visiting. There is a lot of attention for the foreigners visiting the conference. We have our own Global Village with tables, where you can meet your fellow countrymen, but also meet other Delegations (I talked to Brazilian trainers, Kenyans, German, France colleagues). Really nice!
Besides the 1 hour workshops that you can follow, there is also an expo. There are many suppliers in the industry of Learning & Development, that give demo or show their e-learning software, their consultancy services, etc. The conference is every day from 8.00-17.30u, so there is enough time to follow workshops, but also visit the expo and do networking.
And many workshops are audio recorded, have the slides available in the ATD app that you can download. So when you come home after 4 days, you have access to many workshops that you missed. Some are even filmed and many sessions are translated into 25 languages! My workshop is audiorecorded and also translated in 25 languages (interesting to hear/see your session back in Taiwanese, Portuguese, Arabic, etc 🙂 !).
The conference in San Diego
The conference is held this year at the San Diego Convention Center, which can host around 15.000 people. So you can image how much work it is to organize this conference: there are so many rooms (on 3 floors!), they provide lunch every day for 10.000 people, cleaning every day, get all the supplies for the expo and have a lot of people ready to help you find the right room, lost items, questions, hotels that can host so many people.
But also as a participant it is a lot of ‘work’, every hour deciding what you will do (a session, visiting the expo, networking, etc). It is extra challenging if you come from Europe: there is a 9 hour time difference! At 8.00h when the conference start, the time in the Netherlands is 17.00h. So at 14.00h at the conference, your body is telling you it is time to sleep (23.00h in the Netherlands). And you still have a lot of hours left that day in the conference and also in the evening! So the trick is to live on adrenaline those 4 days, keep your energy high, keep walking, drinking water and at 21.00h collapse in your hotelroom 😊. Then around 2.00h in the morning, you will wake up and be very awake, because in Dutch time it is around 11.00h in the morning! You try to sleep a little bit more till 6.00h, hoping that the next time you will crash round 22.00h in the USA and wake up a little later then the day before (3.00h in the morning…). Not only physically it is a challenge (think also of dinners, networking events, etc), also mentally it is defiant. Because of all the sessions you attend, you get so much information, try to make the connection to your work, get new ideas that you like to execute once you get back, new people you meet, etc. It’s a lot of fun and you feel like running a marathon!
A nice anecdote: in 2018 the ATD conference was in San Diego as well, I attended this conference and was also a speaker. The main speaker in 2018 was Barack Obama, because the ATD celebrated their 75th anniversary and booked extra special keynote speakers (there are always have 3 keynotes) and Obama was very special of course!
Obama would speak the second day at 8.30h for 1 hour. I wanted to have a good spot in the room to see Obama, so I got up at 4.00h (no problem being jetlagged 😊) and walked to the conference center that morning at 5.00h. Only to find out, that about 5.000 people had the same idea…..So I ended up in the middle of the conference room (that year about 13.000 people attended), but had a great time watching Obama sharing his experiences on learning. When he entered the stage, people started to scream, shouting ‘We love you’, he was like a rockstar!
This year 2023, I followed about 12 sessions and the 3 keynote sessions and learned a lot on the latest trends in learning. Sometimes it was not new to me (for example hybrid learning or blended learning), but it was always good to get confirmation on what you know already or get new examples. Some sessions were attended by 50 people (small rooms) and some sessions expected many more people and there were 500 or 1.000 chairs in the room.
The best sessions that I attended this conference were on Train-the-Trainer tips. For instance, how to coach online Trainers with specific exercises, how to deal with ‘difficult’ participants during your training, how to build an engaging training with escape room. But I also got interesting advice in workshops on how to use ChatGPT as a trainer or designer, AI (Artificial Intelligence) in training, Storytelling.
My experience is that the USA is about 1 or 2 years ahead of European trainers with the latest trends (it used to be 3 to 5 years ahead 20 years ago, but thanks to internet we get the latest info much quicker now 😉).
When you give a workshop yourself, there is an extra element of excitement there for you during the conference! Because it’s in your head all the time. For instance: you run the story of your session in your mind, ask yourself questions like: will there be many participants in my session, will I speak English in a smooth way, what questions do people have in the audience, etc.
And this time, I had 2 extra ‘concerns’: my session would be on the second day, from 16.30-17.30u, that is the last time slot of that day…. Are people already tired and maybe go back to their hotels? And the other thing I was curious about: would people like to attend a session on online learning? Because after 3 years of Covid, I knew trainers were excited to travel to the USA to meet other trainers in-person. Maybe they were fed up with online training tips….?
At the conference, there is 1 room reserved for speakers (The Speaker Ready Room), where you can meet other speakers, prepare your session, there is an audio/video set-up and screen where you can test your presentation, etc. There is free coffee/tea/snacks and there are 3 people to help you if you have any questions being a speaker. A great service! So you see great speakers in the Speaker Ready Room, like Kirkpatrick (4 levels of Evaluation), Jack Philips (ROI on learning), Charles Jennings (70-20-10), Conrad Gottfredson (5 Moments of Need).
I wanted to make my session on 10 brainboosters in online training fun and very practical for the attending trainers. So I created a paper Bingocard for every participant in my session. The organization informed me 1 month before the conference about my session (day, time, room number, maximum capacity of my room). And I knew I had a room for 130 participants in total. I bought 140 colorful envelopes in Europe while sailing, printed 140 bingocards on different colors as well with the important words I was going to use during my 1 hour workshop. I brought all of this with me in my luggage to the United States.
At 16.00h I walked to the room where I was going to give my workshop at 16.30h. Gilles and Dutch trainer Bob Berkman, helped to distribute the 130 envelopes (which said: ‘Open at 16.45h’ to make it an extra surprise what would be in the envelope which was the bingocard!).
One of the things why I Iike to speak at this conference is that everything is so well organized! At 16.00h there were 3 people waiting for me at the entrance of the room: 1 person to check my audio/Powerpoint presentation (I got a wireless microphone pinned on my dress), 1 person to stand at the door trying to attract people to my session (‘great international speaker, she has written books, having tips on online training and how to use the brain more efficiently!’) and 1 person in the room to be a ‘microphone runner’ as they call it, in case people had questions during my session. She was also in the room for my ‘personal well-being’ as speaker (getting water, doing small talk, etc). So you feel very well taking care of during your session!
At 16.10h there were already 50 people in the room and at 16.20u they had to ask for an extra 100 chairs! I was overwhelmed, I really didn’t expect this! About 70 more people sat on the ground or leaned against the walls of the room. At 16.30u when my session began, it was full with 300 people which was the maximum amount of people the fire department would allow in this room (I heard later). People started to raise their hands just before the session started, because they had no envelopes and they saw other people had an envelope 😊. So I asked them to share the envelope with the person next to them at the moment I asked them to open the envelope (around 16.45h).
The session went well, I saw many people wrote down the 10 tips I shared in that hour. I explained why that exercise would help the participants in their online session and had a lot of background information on how the brain worked when it comes to remembering an online training. I underestimated how many online trainers there are in the United States, long before Covid-19, and those people came to my session to get more tips on their online training!
I clearly noticed from the start that people were looking forward to this practical session: I asked them from what part of the world they came (‘Stand up if you are for Europe. Stand up if you flew in from Africa’). They applauded every group from another continent and really had a great spirit as an audience. That gave me extra energy, which I notice for instance when I start making jokes (‘I took a 14 hour flight to San Diego to give a 1 hour session today, no pressure!’) and tell about the fact that I lived an on catamaran, show pictures of the boat and that this was the reason I had done so many online trainings since 2020, because it’s 100% the way I give training now!
There were also Dutch colleagues in the room, and they made pictures and videos of my session, for which I am very grateful! This is a 50 seconds movie compilation of my workshop:
At the end of my session there were good questions and about 10 people waited in line to ask a specific question for their online training, or to give me a compliment and I also got a few business cards of people who had interest to talk with me about giving an online training for their trainers! So I was happy how my session went.
And funny to see how people took the bingocards with them at the end of the session! There were only about 5 bingocards in the room left, also interesting how differently people cross of words on the bingocard!
One of the Lowlands delegation members (Sofie Willox from Belgium) asked me to share my experience right after the session at 18.00h for her vlog which is popular among Dutch/Belgium trainers. So that was very nice to do!
Also, when I walked around during the last 2 days on the conference attending sessions myself, there were people who attended my session who came to me to say thank you in the enthusiastic American way (‘Congratulations on your session, it was so great!) or to tell me how much they appreciated the session (‘I already told my colleagues at the office about your tips’ or ‘I can use so much of the 10 ideas in my online training, I downloaded your slides as well’).
At 12. June, I will share all the trends and tips that I have heard during an online training 19.30-21.00u for the Dutch Association for Trainers (NOBTRA). And on 19. June I will give a training on how to become an International Speaker, for trainers who like to be a speaker as well!
The closing ceremony at ATD was nice, with an awardwinning Broadway Musicalstar. And the Lowlands delegation said goodbye to each other at the end of the conference in the Global Village.
Once the 4 days of conference had finished, we had 1 week before we would fly back to the catamaran again. So we rented a car (a Ford Mustang) and drove through California for a road trip! We have done this a few times before (in 2018 for example), so we have seen the top attractions (Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Hoover dam, Las Vegas, San Francisco), but we now explored lesser-known areas (Mono Lake National Park, Sequoia National Park, Red Rock Canyon) which was great as well!
This is the route we drove during 1 week:
I have made a movie of the 10 highlights we have seen (including drone footage we made at Sequoia National Park and the Shania Twain concert we attended on our last day in the USA, at the open-air Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles!
I’ve been coming to America for 25 years now (I studies at Michigan State University in 1998) and every time I am pleasantly surprised by the positivity of the Americans, their politeness, fast service and beautiful National Parks. The food and motels have improved a lot (healthy food and better accommodations), but is also became far more expensive. We met a few Americans on our roadtrip and they talked about hyperinflation. Usually a dinner for 2 was around 80 to 120 euro’s and also a motel is around 100 euros per night which used to be much cheaper. But we had a lot of fun and the great memories is what counts and that is priceless for the rest of your life!