Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Conference Tips: Vegas for people who don't like Vegas

Lots of people get excited about an excuse to go to Vegas. I most assuredly am not one of those people.

I'm not much for drinking or partying, I don't gamble or smoke, and I'm not even great at staying up late. The supposed charms of Vegas are pretty much lost on me. And yet, I find myself there at least twice a year these days thanks to the rather spectacular L&D conferences that happen in that city.

So if you're like me and find yourself there in spite of not really liking the place all that much are you stuck just trying to tough the days you're there out and counting the minutes until you get to go home? No... not if you don't want to be. Turns out there actually are some fun things to do in Vegas even if you aren't terribly keen on the typical Vegas experience.

Cirque du Soleil shows
Even if you're not interested in your standard Vegas offerings, checking out one of the Cirque shows in town is definitely worth your time. They're all spectacular, but in a way that doesn't feel in your face the way a lot of the rest of Vegas can (my personal favourite is KA). Also, if you're willing to wait until last minute, you can often pick up significantly reduced Cirque tickets from the multitude of Tix4Tonight locations along The Strip.

Shark Reef Aquarium
If you need a chill break from all the noise and bustle, this aquarium at Mandalay Bay is absolutely worth a visit. Also, if you're here around Halloween they dress the entire place up like a haunted house and let kids trick or treat throughout the exhibits. It's the most adorable, least Vegas, thing you'll find on The Strip.

Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat
Another aquatic option can be found at the Mirage. It's small, and I'll admit I have a preference for the Shark Reef over it, but it's still worth checking out as the dolphins are absurdly fun. Case in point:

The Top of the World Restaurant
The Stratosphere is just far enough from the main section of The Strip that you'll probably want to take a cab here, but it's totally worth it if you don't have any issues with heights. You'll get a spectacular view of Vegas and the surrounding area in a relaxed and calm environment. Also, the food is quite good as well. It's a bit pricy, but the last few times I've been there they had a great prix fixe menu at lunch that's really decent bang for your buck.

Downtown Container Park
If you want an experience that's pretty much the opposite of your stereotypical Vegas expectations, try checking this place out. It's a charming shopping and dining area made out of repurposed shipping containers. It's also home to the coolest praying mantis sculpture you'll ever see. Seriously, I love this place.

Do your sight seeing early
If you want to see the strip but without the crowds, do it early in the day. REALLY early... I mean, "before you go to your conference in the morning" early. If you pop out for a walk super early in the morning there are way less people around (and, bonus, almost all of them are relatively sober). If early morning doesn't work for you, then your next best bet is to check things out earlier in the week. Seriously: The Strip seems to hit Drunk o'Clock a bit later in the evening on Mondays and Tuesdays than it does on, say, Friday. Use that to your advantage.

Leave The Strip entirely
This area is not just defined by a stretch of casinos. I've not done this myself, but lots of people tell me that, if you have the extra time, it's well worth getting off of The Strip and seeing what else is in the area. There's quite a lot of good hiking around here and don't forget that the casinos are just one small part of what makes up the city of Las Vegas.

Look for fun food you can't get easily back home
Vegas food runs the gamut from "as much volume as you can ingest... and some" to "so expensive you'll need to eat ramen for the rest of the year". But in between those two extremes is some reasonably fun, not horrifically priced eating adventures. Vegas is home to bizarre but amusing stunt food, like the lobsicle (I kid you not, it's a lobster tail on a stick... and it's actually tasty). It's also a place you can find pretty authentic treats that you might not have as easy access to at home. For instance, the Jean-Philippe Patisseries at the Aria and the Bellagio have surprisingly spot-on croissants and Amorino at The Linq makes gelato that's both beautiful and delicious. Now, I skew hard towards desserts, but whatever style of food you're craving, you have a good chance of finding a great iteration of it here.

Pick up groceries at one of the many drug stores along The Strip
If you want a quieter experience, there's no need to go out every for every meal. The numerous drug stores in Vegas carry way more than just cold meds and shampoo: they also stock a decent amount of food as well. When I first visited Vegas I was surprised to find you can pick up some reasonable food basics at these stores, including fresh fruit and vegetables in some cases. It's incredibly easy to put together simple breakfasts from what you can find here and make it so you can spend just a bit more time relaxing in your hotel room (and avoiding the casino floors). And as long as you're okay with nothing fancy, you can even pull together lunches or dinners from what's available here too. particularly if you picked out a hotel room with a kitchenette.

Just chill in your hotel room
There is no rule that says that just because you're in Vegas for a conference that you have to go out afterwards. You're a grown up and if after a long day stuffing your head full of knowledge you just want to head back to your room to read a book, watch a sports game, or binge on Netflix, then that's absolutely what you should do.

So those are my personal suggestions for making Vegas more bearable for people like me who would pretty much rather be anywhere else. Do you have any tips of your own to add? Be sure to pop them in the comments below.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Review: Let the Elephants Run

It's really time for me to start blogging again, and what better way to restart than with a review of the book I just finished!

Title: Let the Elephants Run
Author: David Usher

What's it about?

When I was growing up David Usher was mostly known as the lead singer of the Canadian band Moist. In the subsequent years he's also built up a rather interesting reputation as a speaker on how people can become more creative. This book takes the core ideas from his talks and expands on them even further.

What's so great about it?

Are you someone who loves the idea of creativity but doesn't always think of themselves as a creative person? Well then, this book is for you. Everything Usher says in this is meant to help you see that creativity is a skill anyone can build. Through a bunch of mini essays (think Seth Godin length, but in a layout with better graphic design) he expand on the many reasons people believe they aren't creative and the steps and activities they can use to strengthen that skill and use it in a variety of ways.

If you know me or have heard me talk, you know that I absolutely agree with Usher's approach here. Many people have told me that they think creativity is just something you're born with, not realizing the years of practice, experimentation, and just plain willingness to keep going even when you suck at first that has made the people they admire seem just naturally outstanding at coming up with new ideas and approaches. Usher does a fantastic job at pulling back the curtain and showing readers all the sweat and effort that goes into building your creative skills. It's not always pretty, and Usher doesn't romanticize it in the slightest.

What he does do, though, is break down many of the processes people use to spark their creativity and show the reader that this is something that they too can learn how to do with time and practice.

What's going to drive me nuts about it?

Are you someone who already feels confident in their creativity? Then you're probably not going to get much out of this other than a feeling of solidarity with Usher. It's not a waste of your time (and can be a nice way to inspire yourself out of a creative rut), but you were never the intended audience for this book. Maybe buy it as a gift for someone else... like the next person who tells you "Oh, I really just can't be creative like you are."

Also, be aware that the chapters in this are short. I mean, REALLY short. They're much more like reading a bunch of mini articles than a typical book. If that kind of writing frustrates you, this might not be the book for you.

Anything else?

I am overwhelmed with how beautiful this book is. Normally that's not something I would mention in a book review, but it feels well worth mentioning in this one case. A book on creativity should use every tool imaginable to help inspire you, and clearly that idea fueled the graphic design and layout of Usher's creation. Just flipping thought this thing can be enough to help you feel excited about coming up with new ideas.

I'm too lazy to Google the book. Where can I buy it?

I've got you covered (Well, at least if you live in North America):

Monday, January 11, 2016

TechKnowledge 2016 - Where am I going to be?

It's TechKnowledge time again and this one is going to be a bit different for me as I've headed in early for my very first pre-con workshop (It's the Duarte Visual Storytelling one and so far it's been amazing!). On one hand, I'm pretty giddy about the workshop, but on the other hand it's an extra two days in Vegas. Is it possible for me to get even sicker of Vegas by the end of a conference? I don't know... but we're going to find out!

This conference is also going to be a bit different for a programming reason too. There's an entire room at TechKnowledge devoted to more conversational, collaborative sessions - the Disrupt Room - and my plan is to attend as many of those sessions as possible (including, no surprise, the two sessions I'm helping out with). I really enjoyed last year's Fail Jam and the Disrupt Room programming promises more of that same kind of "learning from everyone in the room" that made the Fail Jam so fun. So if you're at TechKnowledge and looking for something a bit different, definitely come join me there.

And now on to the specifics. I don't have my whole con fully figured out, but I'm definitely heading to the keynotes and these sessions:


Speakers: Well, it's a group conversation but I'm facilitating

Yup... I'm starting out my Disrupt Room adventure by facilitating a session. The main idea of this event is that a great way to keep your work fresh is to look for inspiration OUTSIDE of L&D. That said, a lot of us look in dramatically different directions. While the session is going to be guided by the interests of the people in the room, it's definitely going to touch on what fields people find particularly helpful to pull inspiration/insights from, what they've gained from them, and how you can dip your toe in each topic if you want to learn more.

What's particularly cool about this session (and many of the other Disrupt Room ones) is that it doesn't have a set speaker or formal panel. Instead, anyone who shows up has the opportunity to share with everyone else. It's a format that worked fantastically for the Fail Jam and I think it's a great format for this topic as well.

So if you get inspiration from ANY other field, whether it's something closely tied to L&D (for instance, software development or film making) or drastically different (gaining L&D inspiration from flying drones or being a volunteer fire fighter? I bet it can be done!), I'd love to see you at this session and hear what you have to say.

Speaker: Me!

SPEAKING of outside inspiration, if you've ever met me or followed me online you probably know that I love comics. They're fun and engaging to read, and it turns out they can be pretty effective for teaching and explaining content too. Want to know more? Watch my session trailer.

Speakers: Diane Elkins, Megan Torrance, Julie Dirksen, Connie Malamed, Cammy Bean, and me

You know what can be really helpful when you're trying to polish up a project (or get it unstuck)? A fresh set of eyes. And that's what the e-Learning checkup is all about. Bring your project, whether it's something fully built or just an idea you've been pondering, and you'll get some one-on-one time with one of the six of us to get some feedback and come up with a few new ideas.

While I'm happy to help out with anyone's project, I'll admit that I'm probably most useful to people who have graphic design, storytelling, or multimedia questions. Or cupcake-related questions. I have a lot of options about those too.  ;)


Speaker: JD Dillon is facilitating this one

Curious about what some of the newer social collaboration tools out there are (and how you might actually use them in the real world to get stuff done)? Then some to this session to see cool examples and ask all the questions you need about how they work.

Speaker: Becca Wilson is facilitating this event again!

Like I mentioned earlier, last year's version of this session was one of my ATDTK 2015 highlights. Basically, it works like this: we all know failure is a great way to learn, but it's not something we get to share a lot at conferences. This session is your opportunity to learn from the mistakes and missteps of others and even to share your own too. That's right, this is another session where anyone who attends can share, and I strongly recommend sharing something if you come. The environment is completely supportive... plus getting to talk about something that didn't go the way you wanted is delightfully cathartic.

Speakers: Chad Udell and John Fairchild

Ever wonder how you might actually go about using virtual and/or augmented reality for learning and performance support? Ever wanted to just poke the technology with a stick and see what the fuss is all about? Then this is the session for you. Not only will there be a discussion of the applications for this technology, but you'll also be able to get hands on with it too!


Session: PowerPoint for Graphic Design
Speaker: Tim Slade

I use PowerPoint for graphic design all the time (ah, the joys of often having little or no project budget!), so I'm hoping to pick up a few tips. Plus, Tim Slade is always sharing awesome design stuff on Twitter, so I'm looking forward to getting to see him speak in person.

So that my game plan so far. What are you most excited to see or do at TechKnowledge this year?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

IPL Conference 2015 - My big takeaways

Well, this post is LONG overdue. I attended the 2015 Institute for Performance and Learning conference here in Toronto way back in November, but the last month and a half kind of got away from me. A bit late is better than nothing, right?

Rather than try and blog about every single thing I saw individually, I thought I'd instead do something a bit different this time: a summary post about the best parts of the conference that have stuck with me even a month and a half later.

Nir Eyal's Keynote
Eyal's talk on how habits are built (and how to influence people's habit building) was delightful AND insightful. It pretty much hit all my buttons for a great keynote at a L&D conference: technically out of our field but on a topic strongly connected to what we do, a great balance of enough information to understand the topic but not so much that it felt like an infodump, excellent storytelling, a good sense of humour, and well-designed slides. I would definitely want to see him give a talk again if I had the opportunity. He also completely convinced me that I need to buy his book, so I suppose that's a win for both of us.

Sad you couldn't see the keynote yourself? Well, this video seems to have the same talk filmed at another event, so that's a pretty decent option for you. Also, hooray for YouTube!

Trend: Lego slides
Yeah... I've seen slides that use Lego before, but never so many used so well all at the same conference. This is a trend I feel I can totally stand behind (well, at least while people keep using them smartly). At some point it's going to become overdone (and poorly done), but for now I'm just going to keep enjoying it.

Gotta love this!
Trying to attend a conference while sick is the worst
I've gotten Con Plague after a conference, but never before it. To say attending a con while sick is a challenge is a massive understatement (as was trying to desperately keep from infecting others... sadly, no conference hugs and handshakes for me). Thankfully, my body at least picked a hometown conference to feel horrid at, so there's one small win there, right? That said, there were more than a few events I ended up needing to skip, which wasn't ideal for my first time attending this particular conference.

FINALLY getting to see certain speakers
I've had some pretty crummy scheduling luck with certain L&D speakers. For some reason there have always been a few people I either always end up having my sessions scheduled at the same time as (Hi JD!) or other people that always have their talks opposite of six other things I need to see in that time slot. I guess to make up for me being pathetically ill, the universe decided to do me a solid this time around and I got to see two people talk that I usually never get to see: Jane Bozarth and Aaron Silvers. No surprise, they were both fun and engaging speakers, so that was a big win as far as I'm concerned.

Hallway meetings
As I go to more and more conferences, the thing that's becoming the most valuable to me is simply the conversations I have with other attendees. Actually getting to meet Twitter buddies in MeatSpace (AKA: the real world), making connections with new people, and chatting with all of them about what they're doing is what tends to stick with me the most weeks later. Plus, it's just plain fun.

So, no surprise, this was definitely my favorite part about the IPL conference. While I always love catching up with everybody, this particular location gave me a chance to chat with a ton of Canadian L&D folks. You'd think that since I live in the same country as them I'd see them in real life more often... yeah... that's sadly not how it turns out. And sometimes we don't all go to the same conferences in the US either. So attending IPL became an amazing opportunity to connect with people I don't regularly get to see. That was a nice surprise I hadn't considered.

So those were my thoughts about my very first IPL conference. If you attend or followed the backchannel and have some of your own reflections, pop them down in the comments below!