Get the Most of Your Professional Conference Experience

Published: Tuesday, June 09, 2015 by Allison Randall Gatt

‘Tis the season for professional conferences—the Special Library Association Conference will be held June 14–16, 2015, in Boston, and the American Library Association will hold their conference in San Francisco June 25–30. To help you gear up for your next (or maybe your first) professional conference, iSchool instructor Patty Wong gave a presentation on May 20, entitled, “Surviving and Thriving at Professional Conferences.” I listened to the recording of that session here, but if you’d like the chance to participate live, then you can join the encore presentation on June 11 at 5:30 pm PST by clicking on the link in this iSchool news item.

Wong opened her presentation by discussing the importance of attending a conference to gain tools for future leadership opportunities, explore the possibility of internships or employment (or both!), and become involved in the activities of professional associations. She also highlighted the experience of simply getting together with like-minded people whose goals and ideals are similar to yours. “It’s so important,” said Wong, “to invest in your professional development.”

Be Prepared!
Start by registering, and make sure you take advantage of the student rate. After that, there’s the age-old, ever-important question: What should I wear? Wong said that business casual is great and suggested layers—the ALA conference in San Francisco has the potential to be cold. It’s true what people are fond of quoting Mark Twain as saying: “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” And while the quote may not be authentic, the evaluation of the weather is spot-on—San Francisco summers are foggy, damp and chilly. The SLA conference in Boston, however, could be hot and muggy—East Coast springs being approximately one week between heavy snowfall and stifling humidity. Just make sure you’re comfortable, wherever you go.

One of my favorite recommendations Wong gave about what to wear was, “Wear a watch! Looking at your phone (to tell the time) may not always be the most professional thing to do, but of course looking at a wristwatch is just fine.” And a watch will accessorize my perfect conference outfit—an added bonus.

Plan What to do While You’re There
Wong recommended that even before you start planning your trip, and especially before you get there, really think about what you want you want to get out of the conference. What your goals and interests? Are you hoping to gain current information about what’s happening in your specific field? Looking for programming ideas and inspiration for your current job? Want to make connections with people for future employment possibilities?

“Preparation ahead of time,” said Wong, “is really, really important to get the best out of a conference.”

Once you’ve established the purpose of your visit, then it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty details about where to go, what to do and whom to meet. Wong stressed the importance of going to the website of the organization sponsoring the conference and really exploring. Use a scheduler app and make a note of what you want to attend ahead of time. The ALA conference website has a scheduler here that you can login to and use once you are registered.

Remember to talk to your fellow classmates, your iSchool instructors and your professional colleagues. Get their ideas and recommendations about what events and presentations to go to, and if they are attending as well, you all can be what Wong called “conference buddies” and share notes about the specific presentations afterwards.

For the second half of her presentation, Wong focused primarily on the upcoming ALA conference in San Francisco. One essential bit of information that will assist in planning for the ALA conference is the fact that it coincides (not unintentionally) with the city’s annual San Francisco Pride weekend. So you’ll need to be prepared for the fact that the city streets and public transportation will be crowded. You can also plan to mix events and go to the SF Pride parade or tuck in a couple of parties around the ALA events.

Meet People and Network
Half the fun and flavor of going to a conference is meeting people, and Wong emphasized this again and again throughout her presentation. “Be open, listen and be engaged,” said Wong. “Be prepared to share your own experience.”

Bring your business cards, and be sure to collect them from those you meet. Wong also suggested writing a little note on the back of the person’s business card about how you met them or maybe what you discussed. And don’t forget to follow-up with people after you get home.

Wong’s final six points distilled the conference experience:

  • Make the most of your time.
  • Preserve a record of your experience. (Take notes! Save the information that’s passed out!)
  • Connect and meet people; remember them and follow up.
  • Keep track of your expenses.
  • Have fun!
  • Make sure you have a balance of downtime, too.

Important iSchool Details at the ALA Conference
The iSchool reception is on Saturday, June 27, 4:30–7:30 pm at the Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant, 330 First Street (I’ll be there!).

The iSchool has a booth in the South Hall of the Moscone Center—it’s booth #3535. Stop by to say “hi,” meet some of the iSchool staff, and ask any questions you may have about the school’s programs.

For related content, check out these posts:
Shape Your Graduate School and Professional Goals with iSchool Pinterest Boards

A Great Way to Get Further Involved in the iSchool—the ASIS&T Student Chapter

Our School’s ALA Student Chapter—Reasons to Check it Out

SJSU SAA Student Chapter Co-Hosts Mini-Conference at California State Archives on June 20, 2015

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