Suggestions from a Non-Behavior Analytic Conference

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

Author: Ryan O'Donnell, MS, BCBA

I really jumped into Behavior Analysis in the fall of 2009. Before I knew it I was slipping further and further into a field that I would one day wake up to realize completely changed my world. It provided me with such a cohesive and dynamic view of the world that I just couldn't get enough of it. Shoot I still don't. I found myself at Florida Institute of Technology's Masters of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program in Orlando, FL. It was an intensive 60 credit sequence on a lot of things Behavior Analysis. I had two mentors while down there, Josh Pritchard, Ph.D., BCBA-D and Mark Malady, MS, BCBA. I worked closely with each of them. I told myself that I would say yes to every opportunity that came across my plate.  That lead to getting into a daily grind that was usually around 20 hour days, conference grinds that lead to 3-4 presentations and 5-10 poster presentations a year, and countless articles and books in behavior analysis. It was exhausting, but I learned a lot and have zero regrets. 

Fast forward to around 2013-2014 and I began having conversations with colleagues about how we could start focusing on a more systematic approach to disseminating the science of behavior that we loved so much. What that's led me to is exploring everything from entrepreneurship, sales, marketing, videography, gifted education, online education, and many other areas of study and application. This past year I loosely stated to myself that I would start seeking out professional situations that were not within the field of Behavior Analysis, and here are a few areas that I think have been most interesting and that I'd like you to consider incorporating into your day-to-day. The content can be adapted to any area, but my examples will be from the recent California Association for the Gifted (www.cagifted.com) conference where I held two workshops on behalf of the organization (pictured and linked below).

California Association for the Gifted 2017 Institute of Meaningful Instruction, LLC

California Association for the Gifted 2017 Institute of Meaningful Instruction, LLC

California Association for the Gifted 2017 Institute of Meaningful Instruction, LLC

California Association for the Gifted 2017 Institute of Meaningful Instruction, LLC

Being Prepared in the Subject Matter Area

Behavior Analysis is positioned to sort of be the "Queen" of sciences, in that its subject matter has to do with everything a person does, including that of the scientist regardless of the field that scientists is a part of. That's actually REALLY amazing when you think about it - we can potentially think about any area of science and have something to say (not necessarily on the content, but how the scientist is interacting with and pursuing their area of interest). It's kind of transcendent, meta, and not to mention an area for impact in the world (e.g., teaching scientists how to understand their own motives behind the scientific process). But we can't let that make our heads too large. There's a lot we don't know, including any subject area that you aren't competent in.

Most behavior analytic conferences that you attend you'll hear about that newcomer that jumped in expecting to find a great home, just to find that it's hard to be heard. That might be that it's hard to understand our language, or it could be that they just happened to run into someone that was on a great soapbox rant about the possibilities of behavior analysis that they just weren't quite ready for, and I question if that person was the one that could have been the catalyst to the next behavioral technology. We'll never really know, but we should be thinking about that every time we interact with someone - they might be the variable you have been looking for. The easiest way to start is to find content, find mentors, and be humble with respect to what you actually know and constantly check where those boundaries lie for each subject area that you're interested in.

Example: I've spent 2.5 years learning more about Gifted and Talented education, the needs of the population, and how to incorporate behavior analytic literature into our course Exploring Tomorrow with two people with backgrounds in Gifted and Talented education. 

Practicing Your Pitch

You've heard this one before - the ol' elevator pitch. I have a few suggestions that aren't typical, or at least always clearly communicated:

  1. Continually adjust your pitch - play around with different variations with different people to see how it performs
  2. Make sure to capitalize on every opportunity you have to pitch. (I mean, that's how you'll get the data or feedback to adjust towards!).
  3. It's context-specific, so it should be slightly tailored towards the person if you know something about them and can better reach or relate to them. 
Example: "I'm a behavioral scientist and help people explore self-management techniques with their gifted and talented student. What's been your favorite presentation so far?"

Watching Reactions Closely - AKA Track Your "Mind's Eye Data"

Any time that you're behaving around another person there's an opportunity for behavior-behavior relations to occur (i.e., you influence each other's interactions). Technically these are are a little tricky to conceptualize; however, that's not the reason I bring them up. The interesting thing for me to personally explore has been learning how to watch how what I'm doing at the moment is affecting the behavior of the person I'm interacting with (and vice-versa). Since it would be a little socially awkward to reach out and take data on the situation, you're essentially encompassing all of the same strategies, but "covertly." (Hence the "mind's eye data" reference ;) ). 

Example: As I'm talking to someone about the conference events, I'll track the number of questions that they ask me independently, as well as the duration of the conversation and whether or not they insist on setting up a follow-up point.*

*Note - behavior-behavior relations like this can actually be misleading at times, especially if someone is wanting to sound interested and really isn't!

Taking Data

I already alluded to this a bit, but essentially it is just a lot larger scope. Why did you go to the conference? What were the goals that you had while there? Who did you speak with and what were the follow-ups that you agreed upon? All of these can lead to meaningful data streams to watch closely, and after all, that's what drives our decisions.

Example: I track the number of leads and the length of time that it takes for them to generate into a potential client or the length of time it takes to establish a working project or collaboration. 

Wrap Up

Find a conference that isn't in your comfort zone, make the jump, and make those connections. The longevity of our field depends on it, and you're in as good of a position as anyone else to communicate and disseminate our beautiful science and it's possible applications! 


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Ryan O'Donnell

Reno, Nevada

Ryan graduated in 2013 from the Florida Institute of Technology and received his Board Certification that same year.  Ryan has provided over 2,000 hours of instruction and oversight in a variety of areas, including: Medicaid services, DOE Training, prosocial organizational projects, and Rehabilitation and various private entities.  He's active in the field of behavior analysis with over 60 professional presentations, posters, or workshops in the past 5 years.

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