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A Perspective on ASTD's 2003 International Conference and Expo in San Diego

By Dan Bobinski

ASTD’s annual International Conference and Expo (ICE) in San Diego May 18 - 22 had been on my calendar for two years. After attending ASTD's ICE for the first time in Orlando (in 2001), I became convinced this was a “must attend” event for HRD-types.

Each year ICE is a gathering place for thousands of HRD professionals for a week of top-notch keynotes, more than 300 breakout sessions, and networking.

As the president-elect of ASTD's Treasure Valley Chapter (Boise, Idaho), I arrived a day before the conference started so I could participate in a special afternoon session for chapter leaders. I perceived this year’s session to be much more upbeat than two years ago: As an organization, ASTD is staying on the cutting edge and doing some wonderful things. We got to hear about some of the best practices that are making an impact in chapters around the country.

If I can say one thing about ICE it’s that you cannot possibly get bored! ASTD puts together quite a surplus of activities and there’s something for everyone. When I got my program guide (which is ľ” thick) I spent several hours reading through the sessions being offered and choosing which ones I wanted to attend. Some timeframes offered as many as 22 concurrent sessions, and since I can only be in one place at a time, choosing was sometimes difficult! Thankfully, ASTD tapes some sessions, and attendees can purchase cassettes or CD’s for $12 and $15 each, respectively.

I chose some sessions for personal/professional development, some for gathering info on how to help specific clients, and some for tips on how to take the Boise-area chapter to the next level.

Networking night is basically a huge party that provides opportunities to meet people … people … and more people. The fact that ASTD provides munchies and there’s a no-host bar available adds to the atmosphere. I made some friends there that I’m sure I’ll have for a long time.

Then there’s the Expo – Hundreds of booths of vendors from across the United States and around the world. Of course the big players like Ken Blanchard and Associates, Development Dimensions International, Franklin-Covey, and others have huge displays that grab your attention as soon as you enter the expo hall. But the hundreds of others should not be missed. Strolling through the expo hall makes you feel like a kid in a candy store.

This year ASTD included box lunch tickets with registration. In other words, attendees got “free” lunch served right there in the expo hall – another great opportunity for networking or to reflect upon the content of the morning’s breakout sessions.

Although I love ICE and highly recommend it to any HRD professional, the conference does have its downsides. Some of the breakout sessions are flat out boring, with one or two presenters a little too self-serving or offering information at a turtle’s pace. But these are more the exception than the rule, and you don’t have to stay in a presentation once it starts. Therefore, on a couple of sessions, I simply went and found something else more interesting. It’s not considered rude – after all, it’s tough to ascertain the quality or actual content of a presentation based on a one paragraph description! I’d say on average I’d see 5% of people leaving at some point during any given workshop.

One of the highlights for me was meeting Donald Kirkpatrick, originator of the four levels of evaluation. Five hundred and fifty people sat for his 2nd session (he offered the same session twice during the conference) and we were entertained as well as educated. Kirkpatrick is a lovable character and his material is top drawer.

As a result of attending, I now have a bag full of excellent handouts and I feel like I need to spend time reviewing each one to cull even more golden nuggets. I also have new friends from around the country, and lots of networking power with those connections. I also have the feeling of being rejuvenated by having spent a week fully plugged into the world’s premier workplace improvement organization.

Next year’s ICE will be in Washington D.C. from May 21-27. It will be ASTD’s 60th anniversary bash, so I imagine it will be a bigger-than-usual event. I encourage all HRD professionals to mark their calendars now and put it in the budget for next year. I can guarantee that it will equip, energize, and excite you about your profession.

© 2003 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development. Dan Bobinski is President of Leadership Development and the President-Elect of the Treasure Valley ASTD chapter in Boise, Idaho. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com.
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