Last week I attended the Virginia Association for School Librarians (VAASL) Annual Conference. It's always hard to get away from school for a few days, but I think it's worth it if I am able to collect take-aways that really upgrade the work I do every day in my library program and my learning as a professional. And, as I am heading out this week to attend our big national conference, the American Association of School Librarians, I thought I'd pull together some of my tips for turning a good conference experience into a great one.
Get involved -- volunteer opportunities are big and small. You can be part of the conference planning committee or just sign up for a shift at the registration desk. This year at VAASL we rolled out a conference social media squad for the first time -- an easy way to get connected to the work and to promote belonging among members of the team. And, I'm excited to be part of the #AASL19 social media squad for the upcoming conference.
Connect with people -- this can be as simple as chatting with the person sitting next to you before the keynote starts. Look up from your phone or conference brochure as you walk from session to session -- make eye contact and smile! Have a conversation with an exhibitor or two. We had a quick meetup for a photo for the VAASL social media squad which was a lovely way to touch base in person. At #AASL19, our state affiliate president has organized a Virginia dinner. My natural inclination is to stick to myself, but I get so much more out of conferences when I connect.
Be social -- I think it's crucial to participate in the conference not only in person, but also via the social media backchannel (which is usually, but not always Twitter). I take session notes on Twitter which serves me well as it's really easy to find those notes later (Twitter advanced search: limit by conference hashtag, my own username, and the dates of the conference). Tweeting out during the conference also helps me to engage with other people, those at the conference and those following along from home.
Present -- the work you do in your schools every day is important and your ideas are good. Make an effort to give back to your profession by sharing what you know. My co-librarian and I presented at VAASL this year and during our session, we got as many new ideas as we shared with participants.
And, a few pieces of logistical advice:
Stay hydrated -- hotels and convention centers are really dry and your days at a conference are long. I know that coffee is important but you also need to drink lots of water.
Dress in layers -- hotels and convention centers are also usually really well air conditioned which means I always wish I had a jean jacket or a scarf. But every so often you'll end up in a super popular session, packed full with people, wishing you were wearing short sleeves.
Be comfortable, but professional -- Yes, you want to be comfortable, but you will also be meeting lots of different people and making lots of professional connections. Practical shoes can be cute too.
Don't weigh yourself down -- it's easy to collect a million things from vendors and end up lugging 3 tote bags around, however your back and shoulders won't appreciate it. Carry one bag, be mindful about what you take from vendors, and if you end up with a big batch of stuff, consider popping back to your hotel room to drop things off. Some conferences have storage spaces and larger convention centers may even have lockers. Don't lug ALL THE THINGS around all day.
What are your top tips for attending professional conferences? I'd love to hear from you!
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