Conference Attendance Advice.
At the request of Jen & Jason of The Dean Files, I’ve put together some conference tips for ya’ll. To be sure, the tips below are based on my own experience and your conference experience could vary based on a number of factors (where, when, weather, personality, roommates, alcoholic tolerance, available technology, etc). I’m drawing from my attendance at various state, local and regional conferences (the State System of Higher Education Library Cooperative Organization, the Pennsylvania Library Association Annual Conference), two ALA Midwinter Meetings, and one ALA Annual Conference.
(in no particular order)
1. Volunteer for something. It doesn’t matter what, just do it. If you’re a student, it gives you something to put on your resume other than just attending a conference. You can volunteer at the exhibit booth for your alma mater or for one of your professional associations (ACRL, PLA, LITA, YALSA, etc.). Try being a NMRT resume reviewer or greeter. Some conferences seek bloggers/microbloggers to cover certain presentations which can help you get your name out there and hone your journalism skills. I know for the ACRL Virtual Conference we’re going to be looking for volunteers to moderate webcasts and give tours in Second Life. There’s something for everyone! It’s a way to build in some structured social interaction to your conference experience and you never know who you will meet or what you’ll be invited to do next time once people realize that you’re reliable.
2. Some of the programs you are really looking forward to will inevitably disappoint you. Maybe this is just me, and it’s probably just because I read about the programs weeks in advance and literally plan my entire day around them. Maybe I just build things up too much in my mind. But the point is, you should have a “plan b” for almost every session you want to attend. Just in case there’s no room, the speaker winds up droning on and on to a text-heavy PowerPoint, or you realize that you already learned all of this in library school or real life.
3. I have to second Steven Bell’s suggestion to leave the program book behind. You do not need to carry the weight of that book around with you all day in addition to your laptop, food, water, notebook, smartphone, cords, business cards, etc. I usually end up looking at the schedule online or the night before, tearing out the one page with the hotel map, and tossing the whole thing into a garbage recycling bin in the hotel. I think the program book could probably get phased out if conferences are really looking to be more green. You tell me, do we need printed programs with the net and all this mobile? Just a thought.
4. To borrow a phrase from Stephen Abram, don’t hoard your business cards. “They’re like smiles – they only have value when they’re given away.” We’re all at a conference to learn, not only about libraries, but about each other (aw, so touchy feely, but true). Personal connections are really important, so trade information with the people you meet so you’ll remember each other later. There are also some technologies that help you do this without having to hand out actual cards, like QR Codes or the iPhone Bump app. Follow up with your new friends after the conference about collaborative projects, job opportunities, and shared interests.
5. Things to bring: ibuprofen, band aids, water bottle, granola bars, a sweater, mints/gum (sooo much conference coffee breath!), cold medication for days and nights, at least 2 pairs of comfy shoes.
6. Make a schedule. You will probably deviate based on how you feel that day and what opportunities come up (a colleague or new acquaintance cancels or asks you to join them for dinner, you don’t get enough sleep the night before because you’re adjusting to the hotel bed so you sleep in, etc). But having a schedule will give you a starting point. Another note on schedules – pace yourself! Resist the urge to cram one thing after another day after day because you will wear yourself out. Leave enough time in your schedule to accommodate spontaneous activities (these are often where you learn the most!). Allow yourself to enjoy being in the presence of others who care and make sure you have time to test the local flavor (a bar, restaurant, theatre performance or local band).
7. It helps to know a few people who will be attending the same event as you, so utilize your computer-based social networking connections to facilitate real-life networking opportunities. Conferences are a great place to meet the colleagues you have been tweeting with virtually for the past six months or that blogger you follow religiously. Let people know you’ll be in the area and put out some feelers for meetups, dinner, coffee breaks, etc. Lots of this happens serendipitously as you network, but you’ll feel more confident if you can recognize a few familiar faces.
Some other library conference tips can be found here:
- Five Tips For A Better ALA Conference Experience by Steven Bell at ACRLog (lots of good tips in the comments, too)
- Conference Tips for Newbies from Meredith Farkas’ ALA Chicago 2005 wiki
- Conference Tips by Stephen Abram
And interesting non-library specific conference tips can be found here:
- 27 Things To Do Before a Conference by Chris Brogan (good tips in the comments as well)
So tell me, what conference tips do you have?