Annual Conference 101: Basics, Tips & Advice
You have registered for your first NASPA Annual Conference! You are excited and nervous. Maybe you will know a few people, maybe you will not know anyone. Here is some information about the conference that I wish I had known before my first Annual Conference and some tips from some of my friends and colleagues!
Before the official conference begins there is The Placement Exchange. Sponsored by seven national student affairs organizations, The Placement Exchange is the largest career placement resource. There are also pre-conference workshops you can attend, but those require additional registration. If you are interested in one of those you sign up beforehand. The NASPA Annual Conference officially begins on Sunday evening and goes through Wednesday afternoon.
During the NASPA Annual Conference, there are co-current general sessions, featured sessions, research presentation sessions, knowledge community and constituent group meetings, and regional business meetings. Sound overwhelming? Sometimes it feels that way, even for me, and I have been attending the NASPA Annual Conference since 2003. There will be lots and lots of options for you to choose from. The best thing to do is look at the online program or app before you get to Annual Conference so that you can plan your time. You will want to find some of the general sessions that interest you.
NASPA will send out a notification asking first-time attendees if they want to be paired with a mentor. This is typically someone who has been to Annual Conference a few times and has volunteered to walk you through any questions you may have. I have served as a mentor for the last few years and have enjoyed meeting first-time attendees and helping them navigate the conference. I also think this is a wonderful way to start networking and getting connected with NASPA. There is a first-time attendee orientation you should consider going to, as it will help you navigate the conference and meet other people who are first-time attendees too.
In addition to sessions, there are receptions in the evenings. Many institutions, regional, areas, and knowledge communities will host receptions or meetings. If you are interested in a knowledge community, consider attending one of their events. If your alma mater is having a reception, stop by and say hello. These are great opportunities to get to know individuals, and network in an authentic way with people who have similar interests or identities.
Tips and Advice
I sought counsel from friends and colleagues via a social media about things they wish they had known before attending Annual Conference the first time.
You’ll be walking more than you think so wear comfortable shoes. Bring snacks in case the food nearby is not your thing. Sometimes the convention center food is too expensive, or the lines can be too long.
It's okay to not go to every session. But also, make sure you take advantage of the conference and find a balance between breaks, socializing, and learning.
Remember to take breaks. I wanted to make the most of the conference because it was such an investment by my institution; I remember my first conference not even taking time out to eat because sessions were scheduled through lunch. It's important to take time to refuel, however that looks for you. Challenge yourself to get to know at least one new person and identify a potential mentor who is not at your university.
Find a second and third back up for sessions that might be full or not what you expected. Bring business cards and follow up with those folks who you exchanged business cards with. Arrive early to sessions when you can and meet the folks sitting next to you.
Go through the session book online and build your schedule before the conference. Think about the physical proximity between sessions...sometimes it’s not possible to make it from one session to another if the hotel and convention center are far apart.
Go to the first-time sessions to meet people! I didn’t go with many people I knew so it was helpful in finding people to connect and eat meals with! I also got involved with the mixers and sessions hosted by the New Professional and Graduate Student Knowledge Communities.
The individuals above represent over 15 years of my career working and teaching in higher education. One thing I love and cherish about Annual Conference is the chance to reconnect with most of them during the conference. Remember, the conference can be tremendous and overwhelming, even if you are an extrovert and even if you have gone for years. Planning and heeding the advice above will hopefully ensure you have a wonderful first-time NASPA Annual Conference experience. Welcome to #NASPA2020!