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How to leverage training events for your professional development

Think back to the last training course/ workshop/ seminar/ conference that you attended. How much did your performance improve the day after your workshop? What did you learn in the workshop that developed your skills for your next promotion? Did you develop as a result of the workshop, or were you merely exposed to interesting information without meaningful professional development?

If you are like most people, then you did not develop new skills to help you to succeed in your next position. The workshop experience was useful, interesting and the presenter was very entertaining. You received your professional education credits to maintain your certifications. However, you have feelings of "Am I missing something - is this the best that it can be?" "All that I have for a day of training is a workbook that I will never use, and a sore butt?"

As the T-Shirt says "Been there, done that,...". I have attended many training courses/workshops/seminars/ conferences and earned the corresponding certificates and professional development units. Based on experience and research, here is what you need to know so that you leverage training events and continue to develop your professional skills.

Here is the distinction between training and development.

Training - The purpose of training is to teach you the skills that you need to improve your current job performance. These are skills that help you to be better at answering the phone, typing emails, facilitating meetings, typing faster, etc. These skills are easily identified and demonstrated. You can see that you did not have the skills prior to the training event, and you can demonstrate that you have acquired the skills after the training event.

Development - Development prepares you for future responsibilities by developing your skills and integrating new knowledge with current knowledge so that you become better in a professional area, such as project planning or portfolio prioritization. Development is not a "One time" event like training. You develop over time by exposing yourself to training events, soliciting feedback from trusted advisors, working with a professional coach and testing your skills to gain experience. The integration of new skills and experiences develop you and mold you to become a person who is prepared to succeed at larger challenges in the future.

Training events are a component of your personal development, but not the whole picture. Here are common problems with professional workshops and what you can do about them to make sure you get the most value for your time and energy when you attend training events.

1. Training events are not directly relevant to your professional goal. Take time to think about what your ideal next step is. Do you want a promotion? What appeals to you about the promotion? Do you want to change careers? How will you enjoy the new career once you have accomplished the career change? Once you are clear on where you are going and the areas you need to develop in, then selectively attend the training events that will help you towards your goal.

2. Knowledge learned in training is not carried into your job. Training courses focus on providing more knowledge. It us up to you as a student to integrate this knowledge into your job, and develop yourself. You should prepare to integrate your new skills before you go to the training event by starting a list titled "How I will integrate this training into my job". Add ideas to your list as they come to you during the training session so that you integrate your new knowledge into your job.

3. Lost in the sea of new information without a lighthouse. Training courses usually provide a workbook with supporting material for the content discussed in the training event. You will probably file this workbook away after the event and never have time to study it again. To focus on identifying key information as it becomes available to you, start a list titled "Keepers" in the front of your notebook. Add key information to this list during the workshop and you will have one or two pages after the workshop that you can quickly refresh your memory of skills learned during the workshop.

4. Training events don't specifically promote networking on the agenda. However, you should make the use of training events as networking opportunities. Consider your professional goal. What are you working towards? Who is likely to be at the training event that you can help and who could help you? How are you likely to help each other? Think about how you can network at the training event and walk in prepared to network with fellow attendees and the instructor. Engage people in conversation and follow up with them as appropriate.

5. You feel that you have not learned anything useful from the training event. A trick to prepare to get answers from a training event, is to think of three questions before the event. Walk into the event with questions that will help you towards your developmental goal, written down in your notebook. You may not get the answers if you don't ask the questions. Then, as you converse with people at the training event ask if they can answer your questions. You can say "I wonder if you have input on this - I am looking for an answer to this question ..." Reflect back on your questions during the event to keep them fresh in your mind and on track. You will be surprised at how many people have input to help you answer your questions.

6. The generic workshop does not cover your situation. Contact the instructor before the event - tell him what you are looking for in the event and ask how it will be covered during the event. The instructor is looking for opportunities to connect with the audience and will probably appreciate your initiative before the event. This allows the instructor to customize a part of the training event to meet your specific goals.

7. You forget the knowledge as soon as you walk out the door. To help yourself synthesize your new knowledge, take a few minutes each night of the event to recap the information covered during the day. Identify two learning points that you can apply to your job or will focus on developing further. Discuss these learning points with your professional coach and as you talk it through, you will uncover ways to apply your new knowledge towards developing into your future goals. 

You need to take the lead on maximizing the developmental opportunities available at training events by preparing to get the most out of the event and then proactively integrating your new found knowledge into your skill set. Make the most of the event and review what you learned after the event to develop skills that help you  succeed in future roles. Use your career coach to identify the maximum opportunities available at training events and to integrate new knowledge. Use training events to support your developmental goals, by following the above advice so that you are prepared for the event and proactively integrate your new knowledge afterwards.

Copyright 2018 Wayne Botha Email Wayne Cell: 860.214.4897