REPS Insights: How to Make the Most out of Your First Conference Experience

Image credit: Internet Archive
Image credit: Internet Archive

by Rose Oliveira

The MARAC/NEA Joint Spring Meeting is coming up next week, offering a unique opportunity to meet our colleagues from the Mid-Atlantic. In preparation, REPS hosted a pre-conference meet-up for new conference attendees to meet and discuss how to optimize the experience. Amid nachos and beer, we talked about getting comfortable with networking, and choosing between sessions. Here are some of the take away points we wanted to share.

Networking

The dreaded word. Everyone knows it is an important thing to do but it requires boldness to put yourself out there. Take a deep breath and remember it’s hard for everyone!

One thing we discussed is not to focus on quantity but quality. If you walk away having talked to one new person that is a success. If the conversation is good and you are able to develop that contact, it may even be better than many short, superficial conversations. If talking to people is nerve wracking for you, focusing on talking with only a few people may help ease the burden.

Also there is no shame in hanging out with people you know. We have all been in the situation where we only know one person in the room. As you get introduced to people, you will be able to expand your network and branch out from your circle but you gotta start somewhere!

Although the workshops, tours, and social events happening on Thursday are now closed, they are in general a great way to meet people. They are informal events and are a natural places to strike up conversations. If you have signed up for one of these events, make sure to introduce yourself!

Another opportunity to more naturally network are through roundtables. NEA has many roundtables which allow members with specific interest to discuss ideas, network and socialize. The roundtables (REPS included!) will be hosting their annual meetings on Friday, 3:30-4:30. It is a great opportunity to meet people and to hear about ways to get involved.

Many conferences have new member activities for first time attendees and NEA is no different. There is a Call to Action new member meeting Friday, 8am-9am—with breakfast in between! I’ll be there with some of my REPS colleagues. Come say hello!

Finally, remember conferences are iterative processes.  The more you attend and become involved the more faces will become familiar to you and the easier it will be to start conversations and talk to people.

Choosing Sessions

There is no right way to choose between sessions but here are some strategies we talked about when choosing between them.

This is the time to think about what your goals for the conference.  Is there an area that you are interested in learning more about? Is there a topic that you are passionate about?  Do you want to meet other people in your position? Is there a speaker you want to talk to?  Are you interested in hearing from particular institutions? Getting a sense for what you want out of the conference can help you prioritize your own personal list and sort out what the best sessions for you.

Divide and conquer!  If you are going with friends and colleagues you can split up and report back. It is nice to sit with friends but it’s more important to follow what your interests. Splitting up can also give you an opportunity to speak to someone new.  Remember, you can also NOT go to sessions.  If your brain is overwhelmed, it is important to listen to that and take a break. You’re bound to run into people doing the same thing. Finally, don’t be afraid to move around. You have paid to come to the conference; it’s about learning and some sessions resonate less. Feel free to float if you need to.

Here are other articles on the web about strategizing and optimizing your conference experience:

See you at the conference!

Rose Oliveira is a library student at Simmons College and currently works at Tufts Digital Collection and Archives. In her free time she likes to watch as many movies as possible.

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3 thoughts on “REPS Insights: How to Make the Most out of Your First Conference Experience

  1. I second the idea of taking a break! At the last conference I attended I met a lot of people by just sitting down at an empty table or bench during an in-between-sessions period and NOT looking at my phone or reading intently. Other tired souls would plunk down in an unoccupied chair and we would naturally get to talking.

    Another great tactic is to volunteer at these types of events if you can. By helping presenters set up their rooms, making sure they had what they needed, and directing traffic in hallways, folks started to recognize my face and automatically count me as a trusted ally in helping them make the most of their day.

    See you all in Boston!

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