I was prompted to think about getting organised for SLA’s annual conference in Chicago by a combination of things this week: an email from SLA HQ announcing the leadership training session moving from its usual Sunday slot to a new slot on Tuesday; tweets from @Batty_Towers about dreams of missing suitcases and a realisation that it’s just eight weeks until conference starts.
So I need to start organising myself and creating a checklist of what to do between now and then. This will be my ninth SLA conference so I should be good at this preparation bit, but still find it helpful to review what others have offered as tips and hints to getting the best out of conference. Here’s a summary of what I found.
It’s also worth reviewing first impressions of others, here’s a selection of reviews of recent conferences from first-timers: Darron Chapman from TFPL on his first conference in Seattle in 2008; Ned Potter; Natalia Madjarevic; Sam Wiggins; Chris Cooper on their experiences as SLA Europe’s Early Conference Career Award winners in 2011.
Hints and tips for all attendees (these are summary of what I’ve picked up over the years mixed with tips from the blogs mentioned above)
- Pack – at least one pair of comfortable shoes (you will be doing lots of walking) and layers (it’ll be hot outside, cool and or cold in the air conditioned convention centre)
- Conference planner use this to set up your schedule either online, or in Outlook. Choose all sessions that interest you and don’t feel you have to attend only those that your chosen division(s) run. I’ve always learnt most when I’ve gone to a session that has nothing to do with my daily work.
- Sessions – for each session have a plan B in case there are no seats left when you get there, or you decide it isn’t what you thought it would be so you walk out early. Plan B can include visiting the exhibition hall, taking a break, getting something to eat or going to another session.
- Session etiquette – means it’s ok to walk in late and to leave early (Europeans take note).
- First-timers and Fellows session is an essential if you’re a first-timer as it gives you a chance to meet other first-timers and gain some tips and hints on how to make conference work for you from the Fellows.
- Exhibit hall – plan to visit several times and take note of on how to get the best from vendor interactions from Sara Batts and Liz Blankson-Hemans
- Ribbons – you’ll find there’s space for ribbons on your name badge, do take advantage of any that apply to you, and get them from the Information booth. If you’re a first-timer make sure to pick a ribbon up, it’ll be a great ice breaker. If you’re from SLA Europe don’t forget to pick up our special 40th anniversary ribbon.
- If you’re interested in how the association works (and we should all be, as it’s our association) then attend the Board of Directors open session on Sunday 15 July at 9am and see the elected board in action. There’s a leadership orientation session from 4pm on Tuesday 17 July at which SLA’s unit leaders and those who might consider a leadership opportunity meet to consider key questions for the association: “If we did not exist, what association model would we build now?”; “Finding and Grooming Tomorrow’s Leaders – Tailor to Your Unit’s Needs”; “How to parlay SLA experience into a promotion, a new job … even your LinkedIn Profile”.
- Days are long and busy, from breakfast meetings at 7:30am to parties that go on until after midnight. You need to remember to pace yourself, take a few breaks, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
- Above all else enjoy yourself, immersing yourself in a wonderful bubble atmosphere where you’ll meet some great people, learn a lot and hone your networking skills.
Remember everyone attending has been a first timer at some point and is keen to network with you. You’ll make connections and friendships that will last a lifetime and who knows you might get sucked into doing lots of things for SLA. I never imagined at my first conference in 2000 that I’d be standing as candidate for SLA’s President-Elect in 2012.