2022: My First ATD Conference

Sawyer Heppes June 27, 2022
2022: My First ATD Conference

After a three-year safety hiatus for Covid-19, the Association for Talent Development Conference is alive and well in Orlando, Florida. The educational summit has been operating for nearly 80 years since the first event was held in Chicago in 1945, which has grown from 56 attendees to more than 13,000 professionals from over 80 different countries. This opportunity allows individuals to network with different content providers to possibly facilitate a new partnership; listen to educational experts, either one-on-one or at one of the many public forums; and most importantly, you can engage on a personal level with potential customers so your business can grow and develop. No matter the reason for attending the conference, there are a myriad of valuable connections to mine here, and I wanted to share my own experience while I was representing Gyrus Systems’ Learning Management System platform.

Badge Scanning

One of the best tools being offered during the conference was the CompuLEAD Badge scanner. By clicking the "Add New Lead" button, your camera will open and allow you to scan the QR code on anyone’s badge and automatically import their profile details, including their contact information. You can also add any specific notes to reference later, so you won’t have to recall the specifics of your interactions or rate a prospective based on the likelihood of a successful business relationship. There is also a brief survey you can complete to rank the lead, confirm their purchasing authority, mark a specific follow-up method, or confirm their purchasing timeline. These features reduce engagement interruptions struggling for a pen or business card and provide information that is easily synced with your entire team and exported into a convenient excel sheet. That very evening, I was able to send a bulk email inviting contacts to Gyrus’ formal demonstration in just a matter of minutes. The file was also easily imported into our CRM so I could begin emailing beneficial contacts and note the conversation as if it had taken place just yesterday.

Since Gyrus Systems is an LMS provider we prioritized those seeking an LMS platform to host their training materials or content providers looking to develop a partnership where their content can be purchased. Some consultants represented a large number of clients, and their smaller businesses were hoping to find a place to host their eLearning. Others wanted an easy process for generating and sending their reports. Many others just appreciated the simplicity of both our design and functionality of the overall site combined with the ability to customize training, roles/permissions and general layouts. Using the CompuLEAD tool, I was able to easily categorize and address these needs both during and after the conference. This application really streamlines both the communication and networking process.

Always have a Gimmick

I recognize that a free gift can be seen as a ploy or arguably tacky, however, I encourage you to see the greater benefits. Martyn Whitby, one of our Partnered Content Providers from OpenSesame, shared our booth offering free hooded sweatshirts to anyone willing to scan their badge. Given that the Conference was pumping plenty of air conditioning into the main hall to counter that Florida heat, those hoodies became very desirable. Not only did this create a positive interaction, but it slows attendees down enough to develop a productive dialogue discussing customer needs (being without an LMS, ecommerce, data imports, etc) and pain points (sorting and categorizing employees, self-enrollment, limited customizations, process automation, etc.). Martyn would refer to our product as a state-of-the-art “refrigerator” and OpenSesame would provide a lot of the amazing “foods” as their materials to help stock the fridge.

If your complimentary gift is unique enough, other individuals may inquire where they can retrieve one, too, thus generating more buzz for your business. Most importantly, if it is an item they frequently use, they will think of your company every time they wear it or activate it. I saw vendors giving out popcorn, t-shirts, portable chargers, blue tooth speakers, etc. We provided cell phone stands, packs of gum, notepads, and a convenient little band that reduces the strain on your ears when wearing a mask. Some may only come to get their free treats, but a little free gimmick can still go a long way. You never know when a pen or a t-shirt might resurface when a friend of that party needs a new LMS platform. So I wouldn’t overlook this gesture and consider ways to think outside that box, so people will be talking about your booth and your business.

Know Your Neighbors

They say you can pick your home, but you can’t pick your neighbors. Although, with the right relationship, they can bring the traffic to you. First, I would be aware of your surroundings.

  • Who is operating the booths nearby?
  • What does their company do?

This will inform you of companies who provide a similar product and it is probably not worth engaging beyond basic pleasantries to avoid taking up unnecessary time. I found there were a number of LMS platform reps not only in my immediate vicinity but walking the floor, which made for a few comedy of errors. It's all part of the growing pains, of course! Nonetheless, our healthy report encouraged other developers to direct individuals our way who were seeking an LMS platform or similar needs. This would always produce healthy and productive leads wanting to expand upon their current systems, build a better workflow for training, or generate accurate and convenient reports with an introduction already set up for us. I also found it was best to ask probing questions whenever possible:

  • Are you enjoying your current LMS?
  • Is there more you wish it could do?
  • Have you been able to customize your platform to your needs?
  • Do you find any features difficult to use or leave more to be desired?
  • What have been your biggest frustrations?
  • Have you received any feedback on your current product?
  • Would you like me to contact the decision-maker?
  • How does the reporting/training setup/assessments function for you?

Attendees may have their guard up, so they won’t feel overwhelmed, but don’t let that discourage you. After investigating resistant people, they learned we offered resources (sorting, filtering, searching, gamification, automation, etc.) they didn’t even realize they needed and sometimes in ways they didn’t expect. A simple and quick demo can open up a number of possibilities, so don’t be shy. Worst case scenario: they decline and you both continue your day.

Enjoy the Rewards

In all of the hustle and bustle, always make sure you are taking time to stop and smell the proverbial roses. I’m not saying you should rest on your laurels, but with the conference ending at 3 PM each day, you have plenty of time to get some well-deserved rest and relaxation. In fact, there are quite a few events where you can enjoy a fine beverage or a nice meal and still converse in a friendlier atmosphere. Yes, these settings are a casual way to shake hands and talk some light business, but the greater victory is showing a more personal expression of your character. Mingling showcases your friendly side, and people may want to invest in that kind of energy. Being polite and cordial can showcase your work ethic and highlight your professionalism. These are all great impressions to leave with any contact.

Go1 put on a complimentary happy hour that was truly delightful with delicious appetizers. I had a good time with some individuals over a game of Bags, and that can always grow into a stronger relationship down the road. ATD also provided a networking night at Universal Studios for $85 where they closed off the Harry Potter and Jurassic Park sections for our private use, complete with free butter beer, drink tickets, Jurassic burgers and fries, and unlimited access to every ride (with much shorter wait times given the volume of our party), and lots of other food and entertainment. This was probably the best way to cut loose while still presenting moments to brush elbows with other attendees. Being chased by dragons in Hogwarts, braving your way past a massive King Kong’s island, or dodging a looming t-rex down a huge waterslide are about the best ice-breakers you can find!

I also don’t want to gloss over the free lunch options that ATD generously provided in the main hall. Using our badges, we were scanned for a free meal from a variety of options each day: Korean tacos, rotisserie chicken, gyros, New Orleans cuisine, pizza, hot dogs, and so much more. It was a nice way to break up the day, and I was able to drum up some conversation with those who shared my table. A quick scan of the badge ensured you didn’t overwhelm anyone with too much "shop talk" about why they were trying to relax but ensured you captured that opportunity. There was also a Vendors’ Lounge where you could grab some tea or coffee and have a little more seclusion from the event itself. You can give yourself a breather and still have that room for polite networking. Since we were staying at the Rosen, I made sure to treat myself to a nice 3-course meal at the Everglades, where the service was impeccable and really helped me bask in my successes for the week. These luxuries are a bit more out-of-pocket, but your hard work deserves a reward, and allows you to refresh for the next day. Even my bosses took me out for a meal at a nearby Mellow Mushroom to show their appreciation for my effort and that value gave me the confidence to keep doing my job. I encourage other employers to showcase that gratitude for their team as well.

Planning for Next Year

The final step is to ensure your company’s success for next year. Take a look at what things personally worked for your company and areas where you could possibly improve your outreach or engagement for the following year. For instance, we discussed setting up a QR code at our booth for our formal demo, so that the event could be added to an interested party’s digital calendar. This way, they won’t miss the event or at least will have a record they can access on the back end if they want to schedule a one-on-one demonstration on their own time. Another item we discussed was booth location. We were placed near the Dining Hall, which produced mixed results. People would most likely pass our table coming to and going from their meals, but naturally, they may be more focused on that task than willing to have a conversation. It varied from person to person but still had some good contacts. ATD even offered 2023 registration right at the conference, so we booked a good location in the heart of the main aisles, which should produce a lot of visibility. I would recommend Registering Here to take full advantage of the Super Early Bird Saving for 2023.

Final Thoughts

ATD 2022 was my first Learning and Development Conference and my first conference while working with Gyrus Systems and I thoroughly had a good time. We produced a number of leads, some of which have already scheduled personal demos; built some good relationships; and enjoyed everything that both the Rosen and the immediate neighborhood had to offer. Given lingering Covid concerns, attendance was a bit lighter, but there was still plenty to mine from the experience. The only other obstacle may have been the stage's acoustics for our formal demonstration. The way they were grouped together, speakers would overlap with each other, making it a little difficult to distinguish at times, but it was only a minor issue and the demo could still be heard. The setup and takedown process was very easy, with their support team helping you with shipping booth items home or storing and returning your empty boxes so you can pack everything up. I highly recommend going to ATD next year, and I hope to see you there!