Conference season will soon be upon us and it’s important to get the most out of your experiences. Getting to go to a conference depends on your supervisor and his/her willingness to invest in your professional development. Make sure you are that staffer who people are willing to invest in.
Once you get there, be mindful, maximize your opportunities and don’t forget to mingle.
Consider Early Bird Registration and other ways to save.
Think ahead about which conference is the best fit for you. Then take advantage of the early bird registration to save. Thinking ahead also allows you to shop around for the best travel rates and for hotels that may be less expensive than the conference hotel. Bed and breakfasts are a great option and consider sharing expenses with a roommate or two. Finally think about volunteering. Sometimes the conference committee will waive all or part of the registration fee for volunteers. Volunteering is a great way to grow your social capital.
Consider attending one of the pre-conference job fairs.
The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) all offer pre-conference career growth and interviewing opportunities. NASPA has The Placement Exchange. ACPA hosts Career Central. AAHHE has the Career Preparation Institute. These are golden opportunities to meet several university recruiters and learn more about universities in just a few days. It can be overwhelming, but with the right action plan it can be extremely rewarding and beneficial.
Consider registering for a pre-conference workshop.
I cannot say enough about pre-conference workshops. They provide you with the opportunity to meet small cohorts of professionals who have similar interests and passions. The networking potential is priceless! They do cost extra but are well worth it.
Choose your sessions wisely.
Take the time to review the conference schedule prior to your arrival. It will save you time when navigating a large hotel or convention center. pick an alternate session or two. Your first choice may be canceled or may not be what you expected. I once attended a session where the speaker advised the audience to walk out of any sessions that were not what you were expecting. She argued that conferences were way too expensive and way too important to our development to waste time. I leave that up to you to decide. However, I will say this: if you do feel comfortable with this strategy be sure you sit in the back and in an aisle seat. Always be polite.
Network, Network, Network.
Don’t you dare forget your business cards. If you don’t have any, make some quickly! And you don’t have to attend a session in every time slot. Enjoy other aspects of the conference like the bookstore, social receptions and keynote addresses. Reconnect with former colleagues and peers, but don’t forget to meet new people. This is your opportunity to strike up a conversation with the SSAO of your dream school or to go up to a keynote speaker you admire. Say hi and introduce yourself. Always look sharp, even if it’s a business casual environment. But it’s ok to be playful as long as it’s appropriate.
Don’t keep what you learn to yourself.
Whether you self-financed the conference, received a grant or got some funding from your supervisor, spread the wealth. Prepare a short presentation about the key things you learned and request to share it with the division. Show your colleagues that you weren’t just hanging out in a great city all week, but that you learned some best practices that may work on your campus for the betterment of the students. It will allow you to build your reputation and stand out above the crowd!
Additional Resource: Should I Stay or Should I Go: How Do I Know It’s Time to Go? Sponsored by NASPA’s The Placement Exchange.