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Surviving and Enjoying Professional Conferences

March 19, 2014

unnamedAs a higher education person, March and April are some of the most fun-filled, hectic times of the year because most of the national conferences are going on right now or coming up. NASPA is happening, ACPA is in 10 days, NCORE is in a few months, and AERA is just a few weeks from now. While I am not attending all of those conferences (though some people do and my mind is boggled by that idea every year) I am headed to ACPA, and I have begun to start thinking about packing. This is my 7th year going to these types of conferences, and I have come up with a few things that I think might be helpful to keep in mind as you prepare to go to conferences this year.

  1. COMFORTABLE SHOES: this cannot be over emphasized. Conference time means being on your feet a lot, and while those 4-inch heels or brand new oxfords may look amazing, how happy will you be wearing them after a day of doing 4-5 miles worth of laps around a convention center? Make sure you bring something you can walk comfortably in for a long distance. And if that happens to be a pair of 4-inch heels, more power to you, because you are capable of doing something that I can most certainly not.
  2.  A power strip: with the advent of mobile technology, conferences have been embracing social media in a big way, and it can be very important to use those tools to connect and network with your peers. This can also mean that you need to be prepared to plug in mid-day to recharge (in more ways than one, but right now we can stick to the literal version). A power strip is key because often there are only a few outlets in a room, and if AV equipment or other people take them first you are out of options. So bring a power strip in your bag to sessions. Not only will it make more opportunities to recharge for you, you will probably make more than a few new friends who also need a recharge station.
  3. A decent sized bag: there is no exact science to this. You want it to be big enough to carry what you need, but not so big that it knocks over things around you or drags you down while going from session to session. I have had my messenger bag for almost 10 years as this point, and it works pretty well for me. It fits a laptop, ipad, cables, water bottle, sun glasses, pens, business cards, and still leaves plenty of room for other hand outs, books, or other things that tend to get handed out to attendees. I’ve seen people use a purse for everything, some with a regular book bag, and some with a small rolling suitcase. As long as you have what you need, that should be your measure, as long as you have something to hold your stuff.
  4. Snacks: while there may be some meals provided and other things available depending on the conference you attend, you may not know what there is or when you will have the chance to eat, so having something to snack on is hugely important. I try to bring something on the healthy/filling side like granola bars and almonds, or tangerines, but the occasional cookie is nice too. The last thing anyone wants is to be in the middle of an important session and to get a case of the hangries (as in I am so hungry I am angry at everyone and everything that is not food). I cannot think of something I would want to have happen less than to get hangry at a potential employer, publisher, or colleague.
  5. A sense of what you need to recharge yourself: now we get to the more metaphorical idea of recharging. If you are an extrovert, sitting still for hour long sessions back to back to back will be very draining, so make sure you build in time to socialize with friends or new folks you have met at the conference. It will help you be more engaged and you will get more out of the conference. If you are an introvert, make sure you are building in alone time to get back some of the energy you are expending networking and rubbing elbows with all of those future employers, publishers, and colleagues.

Those are a few of the things that I have picked up along the way, with one addition: HAVE FUN. Conferences can be a blast, and there are a lot of opportunities that happen because of the connections that happen at conferences. Embrace the possibilities, and enjoy yourself!

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