We’re excited for what our friend & ScholarCon speaker Casey is sharing today. As the founder/CEO of ForCollegeForLife, he’s been all over the country to countless college conferences…you could say he knows his stuff 🙂 Here’s Casey’s tips on how to maximize ScholarCon!
CONFERENCE LIKE A PRO: 5 TIPS TO ENSURE YOUR BEST EXPERIENCE
There is something special about college conferences! I have attended dozens in my life and find each to be energizing, interesting and inspiring. More than anything, I relish the opportunity to meet with fascinating people, discuss big ideas and leave a better person than I arrived.
In the course of all of those conferences, I have picked up a few pearls of wisdom I wanted to share with you. Whether this year will take you to your first conference or you’re a seasoned attendee, I hope you will find these tips helpful to maximize your experience.
Attend Everything Possible
This may seem like incredibly obvious advice, but I am always surprised when I see students skipping out on sessions at conferences. Whether an extra hour of sleep sounds appealing or going sightseeing during the day is on your agenda, remember why you are attending a conference. From the opening session until the final send-off, you should make it your priority to attend every single thing you can during your conference. To help, be sure to look at the program (many are on apps!) and schedule your top choice for every session or networking opportunity. Above all…show up!
Make NEW Connections
One of the best parts of conferences is the opportunity to meet with folks from all across the country—better yet; you are sharing an experience and focused on a similar topic. How cool is that? Too often I see groups of students attending an event and only interacting with their peers from their home institution. I understand why, of course; sometimes the thought of meeting new folks in a room with hundreds or thousands of strangers can be intimidating. Or, maybe this is the first opportunity you have had to really bond with your group. No matter the reason, I want you to be sure to escape your comfort zone and make some new connections. Your peers will be there when you get home, but the great new friend you might meet from across the country could prove to be truly impactful to you. Be sure to make at least one new friend.
Social media has allowed us to bridge the space and time of normal conference meetings—I haven’t attended one in the last 5+ years who don’t incorporate the use of hashtags to connect attendees. You should use your social media platforms to start conversations with others at the event you might not otherwise get to chat with in person. Use the conference hashtag on your favorite social media platform and then search for others who are also involved. Retweet, double-tap and message them to see if they might want to connect in person. As mentioned above, conferences are a great way to make new friends and engaging in a great dialogue is a fantastic way to start a relationship.
Bring Business Cards
One of my greatest fears when I attend a conference is forgetting to pack enough business cards! In order to be sure I don’t run out, I am notorious for packing WAY too many; this fear may be rooted in the one time I was talking with a new friend at a conference and they asked for my card and, gasp, I had just given away my last one. Some of you might find the idea of business cards dated and something that “only business people” do, but trust me, they are essential. If your college does not provide them for you, you can go on a wide variety of websites and print them at little cost. Include on them your essential contact information (phone, email, social media) and your institution and title, if applicable. Don’t go crazy with wild design color, fonts or quotes—remember, this is the means that a new contact will find you in the future so be sure to provide “just the facts.”
Know When to Walk Away
Kenny Rogers made famous a line in his song “The Gambler” that you should “know when to walk away and know when to run” and this is particularly true in conference settings. I have seen students sit through sessions (never mine, of course!) with a grimace because they are disappointed in the topic, it didn’t meet their expectations or they accidently dropped into the wrong room. I asked a student once why they chose to stay in a breakout session they didn’t want to attend and they said “I didn’t want to be rude and leave.” Okay…let me dispel a notion here which might save you a lot of misery—it is okay to leave a session you don’t want to attend! Yes, that’s right…if you want to leave a session, you should stand up quietly and leave without making a scene. Go into another session which may have been second on your list and join right into the discussion. Conferences provide multiple opportunities for learning and you are never forced to stay in just one. If it doesn’t fit, make like Goldie Locks and find the one which is just right for you.
I hope these tips help you to maximize your conference experience and get the most out of meeting new people, sharing big ideas and engaging in a memorable experience. Most of all, remember that the conference you attend is what you make of it, so make it awesome!