by Shelley Macon, Head Editor, INALJ Florida
Tips For a Library Conference Newbie
To tell you the truth, the idea of going to a conference is a little scary and intimidating. So, I did what any good librarian would do. I researched it. Information makes things less scary, right?
Since I can’t be the only one, I thought I would share with you what I learned about going to conferences.
- You don’t have to go to one of the biggies first. You may want to test the waters at a smaller, local conference. One the plus side, these tend to be cheaper and closer. Here is ALA’s listings of conferences to get you started.
- Wear comfortable shoes. This may seem obvious, but as a first timer, you may think about dressing professionally at the expense of your feet. Don’t. Conferences typically require a lot of walking and standing. It is hard to be at your best with blister-covered feet crammed into your best high heeled shoes.
- Bring water and snacks. Apparently, dehydration due to a lack of access to drinks and starvation due to a dearth of snack foods can be the downfall of many a new conference attendee.
- Do some pre-conference networking. Check your social media and networking sites. See if anyone else is going. Make plans to meet up. Some conferences even have online schedulers or apps were you can connect with people planning to attend the same events as you.
- Look for newbie conference information. Check the schedule and program guide to see what events are scheduled for first time attendees. Many conferences provide this service. They should be able to supply you with valuable information about making the most of your first conference.
- Make a schedule. Study the schedule of proceedings. Decide on the events that interest you the most. Attend at least one that is outside your area. Conferences are for learning, right? Plan your day around those. Make sure you don’t over schedule. Set aside free time to visit places outside the conference, to socialize, to eat, heck maybe even to sleep. I hear librarians at conferences like to party hard until the wee hours. Be prepared.
- Make a backup schedule. You may find one of your events is already full or not what you thought is was going to be. It may even be information you are already familiar with. If, after 5-10 minutes, you decide this is not for you, leave. This is not rude, it is the norm. Librarians love matching the right people with the right information!
- Visit the exhibits. Leave time in your schedule to check out all the cool vendors, products, and services. Librarian play time!
- Business cards…get some. Bring lots and lots of business cards. You may want to create digital ones along with paper ones. You may also want to consider including a QR code linking to your website, Linkedin, etc. Theses can easily be scanned by those who prefer it.
- Talk to people. This will be one of the hardest for me, being introverted by nature. It may be a good idea to develop an introduction for yourself. My name is so and so and I work/volunteer/attend so and so. My focus is on…. You get the picture. Talk to people who seem to be interested in the same exhibits or programs as you. Talk to people who are interested in things outside your comfort area. Talk to people before programs, on buses, at tables, during cocktails, and any other opportunity you get. You never know what this may lead to. At the worst it leads to nothing. But, at the best, it could lead to a new acquaintance, a lifelong friend, a new opportunity, a learning experience…who knows.
- Volunteer. I love this tip! Especially if you are still nervous about the idea of starting conversations with people. This is a great way to ease into it. Just contact your chosen committee or group before the conference and let them know you want to help. Simple as that.
- You don’t have to take every handout or pamphlet. If you don’t want or need it, don’t take it. The less you take, the less you have to carry around and take home. Bonus points for being green!
- Synthesize and organize. After the conference, you should process all the information you received while it is still fresh in your mind. Then, it will be easily accessed later when you need it. You won’t have to dig through piles of paper hoping against hope to find that one yellow sheet (or was it blue?) that you so desperately need, yet eludes your best search efforts.
- Follow up on your new acquaintances. Connect with the people you meet via Linkedin, email, facebook, etc. You can learn more about them and let them know you are interested in maintaining contact.
Hopefully, these tips helped make the idea of a first conference less overwhelming and scary. Information IS power. So maybe we can all work up the nerve to attend a conference in the near future. I would love to see you there!