Top 10 Tips for Making the Most of Your Time at Conferences
Published: May 11, 2018 by Evelyn Hudson
Have you ever attended a conference? If not, it is likely you will at least once during your career. Big conferences like ALA Annual or Young Adult Services Symposium to small conferences like ones held by your state library association are excellent opportunities for professional development.
Last week I attended the Maryland Library Association / Delaware Library Association Conference in Cambridge, MD. This was my first professional conference as an MLIS student. It was a great learning experience for me and I hope to pass some of that knowledge on to you.
- Plan ahead. Many conferences have an early bird rate that can really save you money in registration fees. Look up conference dates now and add them to your calendar so you can register early and get the best rates. Also, reach out in advance to schedule coffee dates with people you’d like to connect with, or online colleagues you’d like to meet in person.
- Check if your employer has a professional development reimbursement policy. Many libraries and some other employers will cover some, if not all, of the costs that come with conferences. Since they are for professional development, some libraries are happy to reimburse you or cover costs upfront.
- Plan your time wisely. Many conferences are chock-full of sessions from dawn until dusk. Make sure you read through the program thoroughly to decide which sessions are best for you—and where they are located. You can waste a lot of time wandering around looking for the correct room.
- Network! If you find someone who has the job you want or someone who can help you get there, have your one minute commercial or your Twitter handle ready. There are few opportunities to meet with so many librarians all in one place, so take advantage! Also, conferences can be a great way to connect face-to-face with people you’ve gotten to know online.
- Be active on social media. Use conference hashtags on your professional social media accounts. This is an easy way to network (see #3) and find out what is happening during the conference. You might even get a few follows or re-tweets from conference presenters (I did!).
- Visit the vendors. These vendors specifically cater to libraries, so it won’t be a waste of your time. You could take a new idea back to your boss or your next course. Plus, there are always giveaways!
- Bring a notebook. You’ll get lots of good advice during sessions. Paper (and a writing surface) may not be provided. Bring a notebook to write down what you feel is important from each session. I also saw some people taking notes on their laptops, which is another good option.
- Travel light during the day. I carried my entire purse around all day, which was a mistake. There is not much space for personal items during sessions and things get heavy after a while. You will likely get a bag upon check-in for any items you pick up during the day, which you can use to also carry your essentials. Also part of traveling light, and echoing the advice of countless others, wear comfortable shoes.
- Take advantage of the opportunities offered to you. If something interesting pops up, take a chance! For example, I was invited to a morning breakfast and got to hear ALA President Jim Neal speak. If I hadn’t taken that opportunity, I would have missed hearing him speak and learning about his vision for the association.
- Be flexible. Things go wrong at big events—something might start late or a session you registered for might suddenly be full. Don’t stress, just go with the flow—a new opportunity might appear for you (see #9)!
Have you attended a conference? Share your tips in the comments!
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