No matter how much I prepare and think I’ve considered every detail, I’m always surprised just how much I learn from our Network during our annual United conference. This year was anything but typical, so fittingly, our most recent conference was even more dynamic, unexpected, and exciting than ever.
Fresh off the panels, lessons, and networking sessions we enjoyed at this year’s conference, here are some of my most valuable and inspiring takeaways from United 2021.
1. Professional Development Should Work Around Our Busy Lives
Just like last year, our 2021 conference took a virtual format. But this year, we spread our planned content out over a longer period of time so that our busy network members could more easily fit it in around their busy professional lives.
Doing so was a resounding success — our attendees needed to balance incredibly busy desks with a thirst for connecting and learning, and by distributing our virtual events throughout the week, we enabled them to do so more easily. Our approach was to ensure that every day of the week we had at least one session for each key role in a search organization, that would provide valuable information without taking individuals away from the business for too long.
This low-commitment format paid off, and proved that low pressure doesn’t lead to a lesser experience!
2. Virtual Engagement Promotes Conversation
Surprisingly, the conference’s virtual format led to more questions, conversation, and engagement from attendees than we’ve ever seen at a regular event. It was incredible — and frankly a bit overwhelming — to see how many questions came from our audience!
At a typical, in-person conference, you’ll get 10–15 minutes of question time at the most, as a mic runner grabs questions from the audience following each segment. But at United 2021, attendees could share questions directly into our live Q&A feature, which allowed questions to flow more freely as they occurred to audience members. It also allowed people who might ordinarily be too shy to ask questions over a microphone do so a bit more anonymously.
Tiny questions, easy questions, intense questions, and multifaceted questions — it was fun to see our audience paying attention and engaging with the speakers and with each other!
3. Peers Can Be the Most Valuable People to Learn From
Our attendees were clear: they loved hearing from their peers, especially those who achieved success in such a challenging and unusual year. I also noticed that peer-to-peer learning immediately lifted the atmosphere. It brought members’ guards down and boosted confidence, as attendees found our speakers relatable and felt inspired by their success to take action in their own search practices.
United 2021 inspired us to prioritize organizing more of these peer-to-peer engagements. We have amazing talent, and I am keen to get them front and center on a regular basis. Their knowledge is incredible — and now, we’ve witnessed how powerful it is to let them share their stories!
4. Learning Should Be Ongoing
Constant growth and learning was already a core value for MRINetwork. But for me, this conference magnified the importance of a consistent stream of learning opportunities as part of our daily professional routines. United 2021’s online format allowed members to squeeze in as much social time and time for learning as they could, or just pop in for the sessions that most interested them.
5. Micro-learning Can Have the Most Impact
United 2021 also demonstrated to me that learning, networking, and development doesn’t need to take hours out of our weeks to have a major, tangible impact. All it takes is consistent, easily digestible learning opportunities to make sure the best practices stick. That can include small, like-minded discussion groups, breakout sessions, or even quick conversations in a social setting.
This conference truly fit in with our attendees’ lifestyles, and they loved being able to join in without getting on a plane, and learn in bite sized chunks without feeling guilty tending to the urgent day-to-day business that always needs attention at their own firms and offices.
Looking Back to Look Forward
Reflecting on this year’s conference, I’m incredibly proud that we made the most of a difficult year, and found the bright spots among all its challenges to create a truly valuable experience for our members, speakers, and attendees.
As we look forward to a future where we can once again connect in person, I’m excited to carry forward all the lessons from this year’s United conference into a new kind of event that combines the best of both online and virtual learning, networking, and connection.
United 2021 may be over, but our Network prioritizes learning all year round. Check out some of our upcoming opportunities for learning and development here!