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​Can You Really Learn If You're Not Present?

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​I recently participated in a full-day training event that was presented by an IIA chapter. The event was fantastic in that the presenters were well-versed in their topics and shared information on a variety of opportunities for internal auditors to embrace to perform more value-added audits that focus on emerging risks. Further, given that there were more than 1,000 attendees at the conference, and I was fortunate enough to attend with more than 20 colleagues from my company, there was also ample opportunity for networking.

That said, in this world of connectivity, it can sometimes be difficult to unplug and fully appreciate and receive the benefits that conference and training sessions have to offer regardless of the topic or presenter. This is further amplified by the apps that are used by these events, which allow attendees to view schedules, presentations, the attendee list, and a variety of other information from their devices. While this is extremely helpful information, having it on cell phones and tablets also can make it a challenge to get away from all of the other noise that sometimes comes with using the devices.

In fact, at this particular training event, given my schedule, there were a few sessions that I was unable to attend due to conflicting meetings that had been scheduled previously. I found that I was not alone in this respect. In fact, I noticed many other conference attendees in the general lobby area of the conference working on their laptops or talking on their phones. Considering that the conference was most likely paid for either by the attendee companies or out of the attendees' own pockets, I question whether everyone was making the best use of their resources if the time actually spent in the training sessions was limited.

I realize some schools of thought believe that the best use of time at conferences and training events is from networking and interacting with peers in the industry as opposed to actually attending the training sessions. I have a somewhat different opinion: There is much value to gain from participating in the learning events and activities. Further, given that this particular conference was sold out, there was a waiting list of individuals who were interested in participating in the event, but were not able to do so.

With this in mind, I've thought about how to best use my time at training events and conferences going forward to ensure I maximize the investment my company has made to allow me to participate. Here are a few things I plan to do when attending my next event:

  • Plan and prepare in advance to remove or limit the amount of routine work that needs to be done when attending the training event, allowing me to fully engage in the event.
  • Communicate my schedule in advance internally and externally to ensure the right people are aware that I will be out of the office and that my availability is limited (depending on the situation, I will set the out-of-office message on my email).
  • Review the training agenda in advance and identify the speakers and topics of interest. Also, as it makes sense, I will try to complete some pre-reading on the topic.
  • Arrive to the session early, get a good seat, and network with the other participants.
  • Ask good questions and engage with the speakers.
  • Actively participate in networking breaks, seek to meet new people, and embrace at least one new relationship through the event.
  • Seek to identify and implement at least one thing I've learned from the training into my work to benefit how I execute audits, how I interact and communicate with team members and stakeholders, etc.
  • Find ways to share what I've learned with my co-workers.

I know everyone is busy, and balancing multiple things concurrently can make it difficult to fully engage and be present in the current situation — training/conference or otherwise. However, realizing where I may get diverted and distracted and thinking in advance about how to prepare for those situations will allow me to make the best use of my time at the conferences and training events in which I participate. I'm excited to use the tips that I've listed at my next learning event, which is coming up in a few weeks. IIA International Conference, here I come!

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