Preparing for SLA conference in July

SLA_2012_Conference_logoI 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.

Background reading

Over the years many people have shared tips and hints: Stephen Abram in 2006, Philadelphia chapter (last year’s conference hosts), and this year’s conference website.

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.


12 thoughts on “Preparing for SLA conference in July

  1. On the networking front – I would add that it’s much easier that in the UK, in that people in the US are much more open and likely to start chatting to you, but also can feel more daunting as well, in that random people are likely to come up and start chatting to you! Try and drop your British reserve (and avoid the instinctual British ‘are they a looney’ reaction we tend to have when a stranger stops to speak to us!) and be open to making new friends. I ended up going out of the conference centre for lunch at a local diner with a group of librarians who spotted I was alone one lunchtime, for example.

    1. Nicola,

      Couldn’t agree more with your comments, and all you say is very useful. It’s really important to abandon that British reserve and jump in to networking American style. It really helps to get your first-timers and SLA Europe ribbons too, as this will be another conversation starter. The First-Timers and Fellows event on the Sunday afternoon is a perfect place to start as you mean to go on in terms of embracing networking. I’ll be there so be sure to look out for me anyone who is attending.

  2. Business cards! Especially if you are between jobs (self-employment or otherwise) be sure to bring lots of cards with your contact information: LinkedIn profile, preferred email address, blog address, etc. and offer them to everyone when you are being introduced.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. I seem to remember you did an article for a SLA E newsletter a while ago along the same lines as my blog post. Any hints or tips I missed that you included?

  3. Thank you for these great tips, Kate! I shall pass along to the Legal Division. I can definitely attest to the fact that wearing the “First Timer” ribbon on your lanyard is a terrific ice-breaker. I met so many people at my first conference that way – people I’m still friends with today! Like Cindy Hill said, lots and lots of business cards. has inexpensive labels that you can put on the back of your card with any other information you wish to include. You will be overwhelmed by meeting new people, so as soon as someone gives you a business card, jot down a note on the card so that you remember them. It can be anything from which SLA chapter or division they are with, to the session you sat in with them, to some common work-related issue you share. Make the most out of your SLA conference! You will be exhausted at the end, but the contacts you make and the knowledge you learn could last a lifetime. – Tracy Z. Maleeff, SLA Legal Division Chair

    1. Thanks Tracy. Glad you found the tips helpful and that you’ll spread the word to the Legal Division. I really like your suggestion for using labels for additional info on your business card. Plus you’re right it’s vital to put some note about where you met someone, or which unit they belong to, or what you dsicussed because without that metadata you won’t have a contact!

  4. I so agree with Tracy. Wear a first timer’s ribbon and you will be welcomed wherever you go.
    I would also suggest you have a plan C and even a plan D, as the popular events often are full when you get there.
    Checking the weather forecast is really important, as there is usually a lot of walking to do, and occasionally the odd tornado. But also remember the air conditioning in the conference centres can make things quite chilly at times.

    1. Thanks Neil. First-timers ribbon is really popular as a tip and for those ineligible for one I’d suggest getting some other ribbon instead, as ribbons really are conversation starters.

      I’d also agree with Neil’s suggestion about having plan C and D as back ups. If there’s a session you have set your heart on, then remember to turn up early to get a seat.

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