Conferences can be overwhelming. The days fly by faster than you expect, and suddenly it’s time to leave and you haven’t accomplished half of what you set out to do.
To help out our readers with the flurry of conferences coming up this month (including the American Association of State Colleges and Universities‘ (AASCU) Summer Council of Presidents kicking off this Wednesday), I reached out to a few veteran conference-goers at EAB to collect their best tips for making the most of a big conference. Here’s their advice:
1: Rate your interest in each session. Each day, review the sessions on the agenda and mark the ones you plan to attend—and assign them a numeric value based on how interested you are in the session, recommends Christina Hubbard, a director of community college student success research at EAB. “For example, if it is a speaker I have been eager to see or content I haven’t seen anywhere else, I’ll rate it higher than others,” she explains. “In this way, I am able see at a glance how I want to spend my time.”
2: Take care of the essentials. Pack a bottle of water and a few snacks—and create a few breaks in your schedule to recharge. “These are long days, filled with information overload,” says Haley Habenicht, events manager at EAB. “You need to take care of yourself and stay energized.”
3: Try a project planning notebook. These notebooks are designed with wider margins and more space to take notes than traditional daily planners. Hubbard says she uses them to take notes during sessions, using the margins to highlight how she can make the content actionable when she gets back home. She also recommends writing down the name of the session or point of contact, so you can follow up later if you need more information.
4: Network. “Connections might be more important than content, depending on your goals,” says Ed Venit, a managing director of student success research at EAB. Make time for a few mingling opportunities, such as receptions, in your agenda.
5: Don’t be afraid to leave a session. “I tend to find a seat in the back half of the room and if I find the content wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, I’ll leave to go to another session or network with others,” Hubbard says. If you’re staying on-site at the conference venue, you can even use the time to escape to your hotel room for a quiet break, catch up on email, or send a quick note about something you’ve learned to your colleagues back home, she adds.
6: Prepare for small talk. Write down one or two sentences about each session you attend, which can come in handy later when chatting about those sessions with other attendees. Good icebreaker questions include: What’d you think of your last talk? What are you looking forward to this afternoon?
7: Keep your name tag visible! “This is the only way that the person you are talking to will remember who you are and where you are from. You can also use your phone to take a picture of a name tag if someone forgot their business cards,” suggests Venit.
8: Write notes on business cards. When you receive a business card, flip to the back of it and jot down why you got it and whether you should follow up with the person. “That way you won’t forget,” says Venit.
9: Visit vendors you already work with. “Most people think that these tables exist only to sell new clients, but EAB has found that most of our table visitors are actually current members who want to ask a question or get help,” Venit says. “We welcome the chance to see you! Come visit!”
Heading to AASCU this week?
So are we! Whether you’re already a member or you’ve only heard of us recently, we’d love to chat with you.
You can see EAB experts Caroline Painter and Tom Taylor discuss “Building the Pipeline of College Enrollment and Completion” in a session on Friday, June 28th at 7:30 a.m.