Sunday, 2 January 2011

12 days of Christmas - Post 9 - Tips for first time conference attendees

In 2007 I was fortunate enough to be on the organising committee for ALIA07, the ALIA National Library and Technicians Conference 2007. My portfolio was Marketing and Promotions Coordinator, a position I found challenging and rewarding. One of pages I put together for the website was tips for first time conference attendees. With ALIA Information Online approaching, I thought it would be fitting to repost the information here.

Planning before the conference

Plan what presentations you will see in advance by reading the abstracts that are supplied by the conference organisers. Some sessions may require advance booking due to limited numbers, so book in early if you are interested.

Only book for events or tours that you know you are interested in and will attend. It will undermine your credibility if your name is there and you don’t turn up.

Send some emails to the ALIA lists (eg libtec, aliaVIC, aliaNEWGRADS) to see how many others are attending from your state, where the best accommodation might be or the best way to get around the city where the conference is to be held. You may even find a potential room mate!

Attend the first timer’s dinner, if there is one being held.

Before you start

Take comfortable shoes – you will be doing a lot of walking and standing.

Take a bottle of water – air conditioning can make conference venues very dry.

As a mini survival kit, take some aspirin in case you get caught with a headache, and some band aids in case of blisters.

Trade vendors often have giveaways and promotional material regarding new products, so make sure you take a bag that can accommodate your goodies.

Conferences are excellent networking opportunities – handing out business cards is much more professional than writing your details on scrap paper. If you do not have any supplied by your employer, they can be made quite simply using programs such as Microsoft Publisher.

Room temperatures can vary, so try to wear something layered which will allow you to adjust your clothing in accordance with the room comfort level, for example, wearing a short sleeved shirt with a light jacket over the top.

If you are an interstater, remember to do some research about the host city – make the most of this opportunity to visit another city!

Develop some questions to help you break the ice. For example:

*Which presentations are you particularly interested in?
*Have you heard any of these presenters before?
*Are you from Sydney?
*Do you work in a library?

Prepare some good questions to help you liaise with the trade at the venue. For example:

*Are you showcasing anything new this year?
*Can you demonstrate something about this product for me?

At the venue

Turn your mobile phone off or switch it to silent/vibrate mode.

Familiarise yourself with the layout of the conference venue. Find out the way rooms are numbered or named (in the case of concurrent sessions), where the toilets are located and whether there are any water fountains available.

Most conferences provide lanyards for delegate identification – slip some business cards at the back so you always have them with you, even when you are waiting in queues.

Network with the trade vendors, asking some well thought out questions.

Make sure that your name tag is visible to all, not hiding under a jacket or behind your hair. You want people to be able to refer to you by name, which will help them remember you more.

Network with as many people as you can – this is where the business cards will come in very handy!

Fill in the conference evaluation form – it is the way the organising committee can make the conference even better the next time around.

During presentations

A plenary session is usually one attended by all delegates. By attending the plenary, you will have something in common to talk about with the rest of the delegates.

Take plenty of notes. This will help if you need to write up a report for work or study, or if you want to write an article for submission to a journal.

Ensure you know where your next session is going to be held, so you don’t waste time trying to get there.

Try to arrive at the presentation a little early, especially if you need certain seating for a reason, for example to see more clearly or hear better.

If you do arrive late, don’t stress, just take the plunge and sit down! You won’t be the first to be late!

Don’t be hesitant in asking questions. You are among colleagues and friends.

It is common practice to identify yourself, your library, or your place of study prior to asking your question.

The trade exhibition

Make sure that you visit the ALIA stand to meet with local liaison officers and National Office representatives, and learn about the work of our professional association.

Business cards come in handy here. Many booths have competitions where entry is by placing a business card in for a prize draw. You can also hand them out for information to be sent to you at a later date.

If something from one of the exhibitors really attracts your attention, write some brief information on one of their business cards as a prompt for after the conference.

Ask the questions that you have prepared earlier (see above). Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know anything about a product/vendor – this is their opportunity to inform you!

Even if you are familiar with the trade exhibitors, take the opportunity to see if there is something new on the market that you can learn about.

Remember to thank the vendors – their participation enhances your conference experience and professional knowledge and will also encourage them to continue supporting conferences.

Networking and Social Events

You will be in a lot of queues (tea breaks, lunches, even the restrooms!) so make the most of these opportunities to network with people.

Remember, if you have business cards, bring them with you because they are a useful tool for networking.

If you’re a first timer, try to get accommodation from those recommended by the Committee. This will give you more opportunities to network.

Use the elists to find contacts from your area.

Remember that networking is not only about talking about work-related topics.

If you can, set up dinner groups – gathering around a meal is a great networking opportunity.

Try to attend events that are organised for all delegates, such as the conference dinner or cocktail party. These are designed to bring all delegates together in a fun atmosphere.

Always be positive – try not to put a negative slant to the conversation. You could be talking to a prospective employer!

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