I remember attending my first conference as a college student. I was a 19 year old sophomore, certain that this would be fun like I’d never had, certain that all my questions would be answered, and certain that everyone would be super impressed with my hoodie-and-jeans take on “business casual.” (They weren’t.)
Spring conference season is upon us, and if you’re anything like I was at 19 (or even 22, for that matter), you’re pumped. You’re ready. You’re going to nail it.
And if you’re anything like I was in college, you paused right there for a moment. Not because you’re not going to nail it (you will), but because maybe you hadn’t thought about that part yet. No judgment — I surely hadn’t. I came home from my first conference with a bag full of wrinkled pamphlets, some notes scribbled next to session descriptions in my torn and tattered program book, and a nametag covered in buttons, stickers and ribbons. I also came with too many ideas. Not to mention, I came home with great stories of the team I went with and all the fun we’d had in our conference adventures. I came home a winner. I nailed it.
Did I really though? Did I nail it?
Whether you attend AFLV Central, NBGLC, Out & Greek, NGLA, SEPC, SEIFC, AFLV West, your organization’s recruitment schools or leadership academies, or the plethora of other options available to you this spring, you’re going to have fun and get some freebies. But if you want to nail it, if you want to leave there knowing that you had the best possible experience, that you get exactly out of it what you’re looking for, then here are a few pieces of advice I wish I’d heard about being conference ready:
1) Set a goal: There is so much information to absorb in conference environments. If you’re a nerd like me, it’s one of the best parts! But I remember coming home so overwhelmed with literally a million ideas about how we could improve this, revamp that, start this new project and that new initiative. We can’t do everything at one time—we can’t even learn everything at one time. The best way to ensure that you leave with your most important questions answered is to spend sometime figuring out what those are. What is your biggest concern or question? What do you need more information about? What are you hoping to learn while you’re here? Then set a goal or two. Those goals will help guide you through the conference as you pick which sessions to attend, which people to connect with, and which questions to ask.
2) Take notes: Seriously. I know it sounds silly. This isn’t class—heck, that’s one of the reasons you’re excited to be at the conference! And you’re right, this isn’t class. This isn’t one 90 minute lecture by a professor you know with classmates you know in a class you’ve been in for a few weeks with an online portal where you can look up the lecture later. This is a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity, full of new teachers, new students, new everything. There’s a lot going on—there’s a lot of learning going on. So much so that you might find yourself in my 19-year-old-self’s shoes, sitting in a meeting with your team after the conference, sifting through that worn program book saying, “I know I learned a lot in that session… I swear I did… I just don’t remember…” Avoid that awkward moment. Facilitate your own learning. Make sure you bring back something to help you remember. Take notes.
3) Make new friends: The group of friends I traveled to my first conference with could not have been defined as such before we left for our trip. We were 5 student leaders who didn’t know much about each other or why we were going together. By the time we came home, our bonds couldn’t have been tighter. We had inside jokes, matching t-shirts and stories about our advisors no one else knew. Not until I started thinking about writing this blog did I realize—I came home without having made a single new friend. I hadn’t connected with a one other person that shared my leadership role, that came from a school like mine or even one the opposite of mine. I heard what my peers had to say, learned from them, and then went to lunch with the friends I came with. The best part of these conferences, the terminally untapped resource at events like this, is each other. You have an opportunity to meet people from across the country who care about the same things you do, who have the same experiences and are asking the same questions. Reach out your hand, introduce yourself, and make a new friend. Sit next to people you don’t know in your education sessions. Have lunch at a table where you don’t know anyone. Take phone numbers, email addresses, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat handles—those will be the most valuable resources you take home with you.
And if GROWING FRATERNITIES AND SORORITIES is something you’re hopeful to learn more about while at your conferences this spring, get in touch with us. Send us an email. Shoot us a text. Tweet at us. We’d love to be some of the new friends you make! We’ll be at almost all of them!