Worthwhile Conferences? Kirkpatrick Variations & the Value of Attendance

How do you know if a training you attended was successful? Was worthwhile?

I’m guessing most people would say because it felt great; or it inspired good thoughts; or it gave new ideas. But is this enough? If you’re about to spend $1000 attending a conference, is it to feel good? Or is it for more?

Using a simple take on Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Evaluation, I suggest a way to know if something was worth it is to predict how it will be worth it. As an example, let’s think of a writer attending a writing conference. (Oh — if you’re not familiar with Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Evaluation, that’s OK. Just read on.)

  • Worthwhile 1: Kirkpatrick Level One (Reaction & Intention):

The writer decides s/he is going to feel inspired by the conference — therefore she is going to choose sessions to attend that she thinks will inspire her the most. She is also going to write down one thing to do after each session she attends. If she attends a session on how to submit a nonfiction proposal, she will write an intention, such as she is going to submit a proposal within one month of attendance. She also attends the conference with the intention of meeting two new writers with whom to start a writing review group.

  • Worthwhile 2: Level Two (Knowledge, Skill, Attitude, Ability Change):

The writer confesses something she doesn’t understand about writing: past perfect tense. She studies when to use “had” in a short story before the conference. She seeks out a session on grammar, or a person at the conference she can network with who knows grammar well, and dives into the past perfect. After the conference she tests herself on the tense again to see how she’s changed.

  • Worthwhile 3: Level Three (Behavior Shift):

The writer believes she doesn’t write often enough. She wants to write each day, but she can’t figure out her time management. She tracks how often she writes for two weeks before the conference. She attends sessions on how to make time for writing. She asks many writers how they make time. She tracks her writing for two weeks when she returns home to see if she is behaving in a new way. (She also mixes in a Level One by intending to write each day; and a Level Two by learning something new about how to manage time better.)

  • Worthwhile 4: Level Four (Change in the Bottom Line):

The writer loves writing — and she knows that intending to do more, learning more, and behaving in more writer-esque ways are all great — but she thinks: what would be a great pay-off? She decides that this year’s bottom line is to increase her publication credits by five in the next year. She makes choices at the conference that lead to this ultimate goal.

  • A shorter take on the this worthwhile concept:

Level One = She intends to meet two writers with whom to start a writing review group.
Level Two = She is not a great networker so she will learn and practice new networking techniques.
Level Three = She does not participate in peer critique and wants to — and will measure if she does.
Level Four = She will place five new pieces in the next year.

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