Last week, I attended a two-day training event called, “Crucial Conversations” by the innovative corporate training company, VitalSmarts, in Los Angeles. As the Director of Customer Service Training and Leadership Development for my company, The Bill Marsh Automotive Group, I make it a priority to attend one to two professional development events every year — something I highly recommend.

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Despite the fatigue of travel and a 3-hour time change, I was completely energized throughout the entire session. (I also visited my son, Will Marsh, who is launching his career as a world musician in LA, which added to my energy!) The content was rich, the learning pace was fast and intense, and my fellow attendees were talented, engaging learners from multiple backgrounds and industries — one of the advantages of being in a big international city like Los Angeles.

In reflecting on my trip, I realized that, given the considerable expense in time and money to attend events like these, you absolutely must go with a game plan — a set of physical and mental commitments planned in advance — in order to create the productive new habits and disciplines promised by the training. Otherwise, the experiences become what we in our company call “sunburn training” — that is, once you return and get back to your normal routine, most of what you learn wears off like a sunburn.

Based on my experience, here are five tips that I believe will help you optimize any training program or conference:

1) Sit in the front seat. Have you ever noticed in meetings, classrooms, and conferences, how the back seats fill up first? While most people scramble to sit in the back to avoid looking conspicuous, sitting up front not only projects confidence, it will position you to get more from the entire experience.

2) Sleep. Resist the temptation to indulge in sleep-depriving diversions, especially when you’re traveling. According to the latest research, our minds are extremely active during sleep, integrating new information learned during the day, processing memories, and sorting the significant from the meaningless stuff we remember. Getting enough sleep ensures your mind will be at it’s best.

3) Eliminate Distractions. This has become a much bigger issue than early in my career, when all you brought with you was a notebook and pen. As hard as it is, turn off your smart phone and don’t check your email the whole time you’re there. All it takes is one unexpected issue from the home office to hijack your focus and deplete your experience.

4) Create a crisp, one sentence self -introduction. One of the biggest benefits of off-site training is networking. Many times, I’ve learned as much from the contacts I made as I did from the training. Come prepared to make a positive impression by creating a succinct, positive summary of who you are and what you do and memorize it. Then shut up, listen, and learn — you will be amazed at what you can gain from others’ insights!

5) Review your notes immediately after the session. Since the flights home from LA to Traverse City took a full day (I had a four hour layover in Minneapolis), I pored over my notes, re-read the book, Crucial Conversations, and listened to podcasts on the subject, reinforcing everything I learned while it was still fresh in my memory. I cannot recommend this strongly enough. When you mentally anchor the most important content from your experience, you enable the creation of new habits and thought patterns. And isn’t that what “professional development” is all about?

If you have ever experienced the costly, time-wasting frustration of “sunburn training,” follow these simple but effective personal strategies to enhance any training experience!

What are your thoughts? What’s the most impactful conference or training you’ve experienced in recent years? Are there any other suggestions you have for maximizing your experience?

If you are interested in learning more about “Crucial Conversations,” watch this short video from Vital Smarts.