6 Tactics for Getting the Most Out of a Seminar

One of the best-kept secrets about self-employment is that it gives you an excuse to be a lifelong learner. There’s always some new subject to investigate, new skills to master, new techniques for growing your enterprise.

While regularly showing up for seminars and workshops can be a wise investment of both time and money, not every adult learner knows how to maximize the experience.

As I was busily rearranging the New York hotel ballroom where my seminar was to be held, a man arrived, marched to the front seat, sat down, folded his arms over his chest and said in a demanding voice, “This better be good!” I was quite certain that he was about to be disappointed.

During the break, another man rushed up to me, eyes glowing, and said, “I can’t believe what’s happening. I wasn’t even supposed to be here tonight. I came to take notes for a friend who was called out of town. Already I have thought of three businesses I can start!”

Every seminar I teach has a variation of this theme. While the information is the same, some people leave with nothing and others leave with more than they expected. How can you be one of the ones who get more out of the classes and seminars you attend?

The moment I walked out of that seminar in New York, I began making notes about classroom behavior that guarantees the best possible experiences. Here’s what my best students have taught me.

Be responsible for what happens in the classroom.
Do you realize, for instance, that you can help the leader do a better job? By nodding, smiling, responding, you can encourage—or discourage—the person leading the seminar. Nonverbal communication is strong in a classroom and good teachers are paying attention to the signals their students send. If you frown or appear indifferent, you may have a negative impact on the person leading the course. By supporting the teacher, you will get a better class. No kidding.

Come ready to learn.
Of course, you need to have note-taking equipment in good working order with you, but that’s only part of being prepared. Leave your problems and worries outside the room and let your sense of adventure take over. For a few hours, suspend your resistance and be open to the ideas and information you are receiving. Treat your learning experiences like a mini-vacation and be willing to encounter the unexpected.

Pick the best seat in the house. I’m always fascinated to see how a room fills up. Some people look for an open spot in the back of the room. Serious students realize that where they place themselves can make for a better experience. Arrive a bit early and select the best vantage point you can get. Make sure you can see and hear what’s going on.The farther to the front that you place yourself, the fewer the distractions.

Take two sets of notes.
Make one set factual (i.e. important points given in the lecture, etc.) and another of ideas that you get during the course of the lecture. In other words, begin applying ideas to yourself immediately.

Take advantage of the opportunity to connect.
It surprises me that so many adults don’t even acknowledge the people sitting next to them in a seminar. How can you fail to be curious about others who are sharing the same learning adventure? If you’re attending a longer event with regular breaks, you may discover the biggest rewards come from conversations you instigate in the hallway. Don’t miss out.

Be a regular student.
Of course, expanding your knowledge can be fun and interesting, but there are larger benefits. Seminars and classes can strengthen your self-confidence, motivate you, awaken ideas and thoughts that have been dormant. You can even transform your life. Although Cinderella changed hers with a magic wand; modern versions of the story such as My Fair Lady rely on education to perform such miracles.

Take your self-education seriously. And while not all seminars will be equally powerful, you’ll still receive the benefits that come from keeping your curiosity alive.

Barbara J. Winter is a teacher who has taught thousands of adult learners throughout the US, Canada and Great Britain. She considers classrooms to be her natural habitat.

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