SLA 2012 conference debrief


I’ve been back for over a month now, and have been slow in writing this post. I’ve been spurred on to get this done having read others accounts, which SLA helpfully pulled together. Here are my reflections on my 9th SLA conference.

‘Vote early, vote often’ – the candidate experience

We were after all in Chicago so the phrase  ‘vote early,  vote often‘  was used several times each day. As a candidate, I’m standing for SLA’s Board of Directors for the position of President-Elect; conference is a great opportunity to meet members and to get an idea of their concerns and issues, as well as answering questions about what I’d do if elected. I attended lots of open houses and receptions and met many interesting people. The one night that stands out, was Monday as it proved to be a logistical nightmare with three receptions, in different places in Chicago, to attend in a couple of hours. But the up side of this was that I got to go to two receptions I’ve always wanted to attend but not been able to: the Canadian and American West chapters. Both lived up to expectations, underlining conference’s fabulous networking opportunities. I enjoyed them so much I’ll be sure to try and attend again in future years.

The conference attendee’s experience

I found Ian Wooler’s post on how to use knowledge management techniques of learning before, whilst and after, to improve your conference experience very helpful. Here are my takes on:

‘Learning before doing (pre-conference)’

I was attending conference with the following aims: as a candidate for President-Elect, to meet and greet voters, to understand their concerns and issues, and to tell them about myself. So I was aiming to attend all receptions, open houses and as many sessions as possible to speak with members.

As a delegate I wanted to ensure I got an idea of the key trends and concerns in the industry and ideas on innovations I could take back to the office. I was aiming to attend at least one session a day that covered a broad theme.

‘Learning whilst doing (at the conference)’

I kept notes online (using Evernote) and in my notebook of the trends and observations I picked up from sessions and networking events I attended and here’s a list of the key ones:

  • ‘unconference’ events, in particular the impromptu one led by Lee Ann Benkert, gave a new perspective on session format and seemed to fill a gap in terms of providing a way for people to mix and interact that was missing from formal sessions. Lee Ann’s session was also a great opportunity to seamlessly include vendors and delegates together.
  • Global or international perspectives – for the first time in 10 years I really noticed a desire from attendees to hear more case studies and speakers from outside North America.
  • More collaboration between divisions with more co-sponsored sessions that provided an opportunity to approach subjects from a more holistic perspective.
  • Demonstrating or measuring impact and value – this was a common theme in sessions and during networking sessions and it resonated with everyone regardless of their tenure in the profession. It felt like it really was the emerging issue for us all.

‘Learning after doing (post conference)’

My key aims for attending: to meet and greet members as a candidate, and as a practitioner to understand key trends were both achieved. In terms of follow up I’ve completed this blog post, and attended Scott Brown’s excellent post conference webinar on how to usefully follow up the conference experience (one of his suggestions is cited below). I have kept abreast and commented on various blog posts and kept an eye on #SLAChicago on Twitter. Finally, I realise there are a few things to add to my post about preparing for conference:

– remember to write your name on the back of your name badge at the start of conference, then if your lanyard moves around people can still see who you are (thanks to Bethan Ruddock);

– keep your pocket planner, refer to it and the online planner in the weeks after conference to catch up on the sessions you missed and to look for trends when you do an overview of conference (thanks to Scott Brown for this tip);

– take more business cards than you think you’ll need, they’re your best bet for making and keeping in contact with all the great people you’ll meet. Don’t forget to write a few words on the reverse of the card you receive to remind you of where and when you meet the person. This will prove invaluable for jogging your memory on your return home.


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