I remember attending conferences as a student leader. I represented my chapter at fraternity conventions as president, and I represented my community as an officer on IFC. Years later I would take students to conferences so they could have an eye-opening experience to bring back to campus. Now I serve as a speaker and lead sessions at conferences across the nation to help inspire the students like I used to be. With a couple of decades under my belt of attending these conferences, allow me to give you some tips, tricks and hacks to make conferences and conventions a little more manageable.
Grande Coffee, Venti Knowledge
If you’re anything like me, before you can properly tackle the day and deal with other people, you might need a little nectar of the Gods pick-me-up in the morning. However, the lines can be downright atrocious. If you’re not a fan of the hotel room coffee maker and simply must have your morning fix, head down first thing in the morning before you get ready. I usually pop down as soon as they open and order my coffee extra hot – that way when I take it back to my room and get dressed to impress it’s at a regular temperature when I need it. Plus I’ve avoided the asinine line that always forms 30 minutes before the opening session. (Extra tip for #AFLVCentral attendees: when you order your coffee extra hot, head over to the College Moxie booth across from Starbucks to get your coffee sleeve).
Mind your gap to plan your day
There are a plethora of sessions at conferences that will interest you. However, take a moment to review the sessions and pick ones that will challenge your way of thinking. Identify areas where your knowledge isn’t as deep and you could learn more, maybe about a different council. If you are attending a joint conference such as #AFLVCentral and #NBCLG or #AFLVWest and #NCGLC, there are amazing opportunities to do this. If you are a member of an IFC or Panhellenic organization, this is a great chance to show your peers from other councils that you’re interested in learning more about NPHC, NALFO, NAPA, MGC, UFSC, or vice versa. You can also learn more about planning your day from CAMPUSPEAK’s Conference Impact Guide.
Your Friends Will Still Be Your Friends
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the size and crowds at a conference. When we feel this way we immediately gravitate to our comfort zone – our campus delegation. However, I cannot stress the importance of introducing yourself to others that are not on your campus.
Take Notes (actual notes)
For some, this might seem odd but just go with me for a second. Research has shown (NPR article, 2016) that students who take physical notes during lectures retain the information better. This is because you’re taking the content and breaking it down in such a way that makes sense for you, rather than just typing notes. Plus, the clickety-clackity of typing notes is distracting…
In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” It’s incredibly easy to get caught up making sure our social media game is on point and we’re posting about all of the incredible things we’re learning or heard keynote speakers say, or maybe we just look fly AF and want to capture that moment too – however the experience can’t be summed up in a tweet or post or filter. Allow yourself the chance to truly experience the education and knowledge being dropped.
Think Outside the Box
You might find yourself in a workshop and wondering how in the world you could apply what you’re learning to your position or campus. Don’t get stuck or fixated on the exact words of presenters. Think about the concepts or spirit of the presentation and how you could adapt it for your position or campus.
Reflect, Plan, Shift
At the end of the conference be sure to set aside some time to reflect on the overall experience. Look back at your notes, compare your notes and sessions with others that attended the conference, and determine what you were inspired by and how you could incorporate concepts into your role as a leader. Keep in mind that you not everyone on campus had the same impactful experience you did – so they might be resistant to some new ideas. But remember: shift happens. You can’t make every change you want, and you might even fail a few times. Go back to your notes, the delegation that attended the conference, or the friends you met at the conference for inspiration. You got this.
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I also asked the staff over at the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values, the awesome people who put on #AFLVCentral, #NBGLC, #AFLVWest and #NCGLC, for some of their thoughts and here’s what they shared:
- Ask yourself why you are at the conference. It could be for your own personal development or it could be to learn skills of a position you hold. Most likely, it’s a mix of both so make sure to approach the experience with that balance in mind. Track which sessions are for your role versus you so that both goals are accomplished!
- Make some new friends! Most other students would probably love to have a peer at another campus to collaborate with and I can promise most presenters will be slinging business cards all week and would love a follow-up conversation.
- Get uncomfortable. As you’re planning your schedule, if you see a session topic that seems to deserve some side-eye, check yourself and dive in. The best learning takes place when you’re in the unknown and there will be several opportunities so get to it!
- Frequent the Exhibit Hall. First, a lot of these cool companies would love to learn more about you and your community. Second, between the free swag, silent auction, raffles, and flash sales there’s always a lot going on. Plus, many of the speakers hang out in that area so some of those unanswered questions can be revisited if you’re brave enough to ask.
- Expose yourself to perspectives different than your own. The best environment for learning to happen is in the one that pushes us out of our comfort zone. Attend sessions that you typically wouldn’t attend; challenge yourself to learn from diverse points of few. Be ok with changing your mind/your opinion on a given subject.
- The one who does the work, does the learning. Conferences create amazing energy…but don’t you want to do something as a result? You will retain what you write down. Track (in-writing) how you can apply key concepts to your situation. Refer back to your notes a few days after the conference to develop next steps.