Five Tips for a Successful Conference
by Deborah B. Ford
With the 2015 ALA Annual Conference just around the corner you’ve probably already pre-registered, booked your hotel and airfare, and rooted through the attic for your luggage. Following five simple guidelines will help you make the most of your attendance.
Plan ahead. Visit the ALA website for a look at the conference at-a-glance. You’ll find the basic schedule, a map of area hotels, and a link to activities in the Exhibit Hall. Your ALA membership allows you to create your own schedule, so log in to your account and create your own conference. Add key events such as the Newbery Banquet, and have alternative plans to sessions in case you don’t have time to travel or the room is full. Plan a 30 second introduction speech about yourself. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to use it. First time attendees can sign up for a mentor.
Pack like a professional. Though conference attendance requires plenty of walking and standing, remember that ALA Annual is a perfect opportunity to network. Pack business casual attire and your best comfortable shoes. Take a jacket or sweater as the temperatures tend to fluctuate between hot and cold. I began my consultant career at a major conference, so you never know where those chance connections may lead you. Just remember that you want to put your best foot forward. Leave your worn out tennis shoes at home.
Also make sure you have business cards. If your employer doesn’t provide them, print your own or order them through a company like Vistaprint where 500 cards are only $20. Keep your receipts for tax purposes. You may also want to create address labels which are handy when a vendor is giving away a door prize. Generally, though, they will have a scanner to use with your ID badge.
Take an extra suitcase for bringing back the swag from the exhibits. You’ll save time and money on shipping materials home. Pack a poster tube to protect the beautiful illustrations during the journey home. You can also ship your treasures at the exhibit post office. Many hotels have business centers, so you can avoid long lines there as well. A small umbrella is good protection from a surprise shower. Remember to pack your device chargers.
Participate in the conference. You could spend your entire weekend at the exhibits, but break up the time and attend sessions. Visit committee meetings to think about how you might be more involved. Go to the poster sessions. Visit the Network Uncommons, where you can meet attendees and chat or present about whatever you like. It’s also a great place to recharge your devices. Attend social events which are another great time to network. If you didn’t buy a banquet ticket, you can always attend the speeches without having dinner. There are generally extra chairs in the back of the room. Use social media to continue conversations #alaac15. Identify people to follow.
Pencil in some down time. With a schedule guide the size of an old phone book, it’s easy to go from sunup to sundown, but plan to have some moments for processing what you’ve learned. San Francisco is a great city, so don’t miss the opportunity to savor its flavors, culture, and sights. Even a walk around your hotel can be a time to breathe in its ambiance. Step out of the conference center and eat locally. Pop back over to your hotel and take a nap that could give you a second wind. Jot down some specific goals for your return. Write a few notes on the business cards you’ve swapped. Next week you may not remember your conversation.
Prevent post-conference blues. The high you feel while at the conference won’t last forever. Plan ahead to deconstruct what you learned and saw. Schedule a meeting with your colleagues. Talk about implementation of your notes. What committees do you want to know more about? Make a list of what you didn’t do that you wish you had. If your administration paid for your conference write a short letter of appreciation and include some bullet points of what you gained from attending. Send out notes to people you met. Read the ARCs you hauled back across America. File your notes. Hang your posters. Start planning and saving for your next conference.
Conferences are a both a luxury and a necessity. Librarians spend so much time on their own. Though they aren’t inexpensive, the value they add to your career can be immeasurable. Participation in a large event charges your battery. It inspires you. It affirms you. And be sure you stop by the Media Source, Inc. booth to say hello. That’s the best part of our attendance.