So you're headed to your first conference—well, whatcha gonna do? Here are five tips from things that I have learned about attending conferences. I challenge you to follow all of them. Trust me, you’ll be thankful you did.
Go to all of the sessions.
This may seem obvious, however, I see so many people at each conference skipping sessions to nap, go back to the hotel, connect back to the office, answer emails, or what have you. I get it! This is probably the first time you've slowed down in a while.Working with students is a fast-paced, high energy occupation, and sometimes, the moment you can pause and get some work completed, (i.e. answer emails), is AMAZING. However, let me take this time to challenge you to go to something each session. Even if you have a session section where it doesn’t sound as if you would be interested in the offerings—try one. This is a rare opportunity to perhaps expand your skill set or maybe give you a window into a new area. Or, perhaps you can take this information back to your department—would another colleague benefit from the material you could gain? In many cases, we may be one or two people on an entire staff that is able to attend the conference, and the ability to share information is awesome. Maximize your time! Though, if you do skip, make it count.
Go to as many of the socials as possible.
Conferences are cool. One of the reasons that I love them so much is because how often do you get to be in the same place with potentially hundreds (or thousands) of others in the same space for the same or similar reasons as you? … Er...professionally speaking...Shopping at Ikea and Costco don’t count. Anyway. This is a great opportunity to see what other institutions are doing and meet your colleagues. It doesn’t hurt, either, to start chatting with people you might one day be working directly alongside.
Is there a mentorship program? Sign up.
I confess, this is something I haven’t done yet, but next time I get the chance, it’s happening. I had a colleague who signed up for a mentor at a conference we went to, and could never stop talking about how awesome this woman was. She was randomly paired with someone in the profession who had a number of years of experience, and she has benefitted greatly from that relationship ever since. I’ve been blessed with a couple of people that I’ve called “mentor” through the years, but this is unique, in that the person is probably from a very different background and goes to a different school.
Shake as many hands as you can.
So, I was a business major for about 0.2 seconds. However, one of the best things I learned in those classes was to shake hands. And not just with a few people—but with as many people as possible. Practice your handshake, make it firm, and confident without being crushing or limp-noodly. … Oh, and business cards. Make sure you have these to hand out after you’ve shaken hands and made introductions. People will remember a good handshake and a card.
Speak up and ask questions.
So you’ve never been to a conference before, that’s okay! You are here for a reason and are a glowing light of knowledge in your own right. But—get brighter. Ask good questions, and make comments. Clarify things. You’re at this conference and in these sessions to learn—so apply the principles that you might suggest to your students and get engaged. There’s no better way to learn.