I’m sitting in my hotel room at the 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention and Emerging Leaders Preconference in San Antonio, and I’m a little overwhelmed by the whole thing. This is not only my first time at this Convention, it’s my first multiple day conference, period.
I’ve gotten an incredible amount of amazing information and met so many people in such a short period of time. Here’s some of what I’ve learned in my few days here, and some of the best advice I’ve been given.
Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need
Never in my life have I received so many business cards. I could wallpaper my living room with the new cards in my case, and still have some left over. I’m trading cards at almost every interaction. I’ve met some folks, though, that have run out of cards, or didn’t have them with them. I’d say I’ve already forgotten about 80 percent of those people. Be memorable. Carry your cards, and bring enough.
You’re going to be hungry. It’s a given. “But Johnny,” you say, “my opening session has a breakfast, they’re providing lunch, and there’s a reception tonight. I don’t need to pig out.” It says they’re providing breakfast—it might just be a bagel and coffee. The lunch might be delicious and Texas-sized, but the speaker might be so enthralling that you only get to half of it.
By the time you get to the reception, your fellow arts admins might have descended on the poor, unsuspecting waitstaff like hyenas, leaving you with nothing but a quesadilla slice and three glasses of merlot.
You’ll be much happier if you’ve got an apple, some jerky, or a bag of Cheezits squirreled away.
Take personal notes
You’re probably already taking notes in your sessions. (I hope you are, at least. Conferences ain’t cheap.) Some people do it on their laptop, some use an iPad, some prefer to do it analog. It’s essential—you’re mostly here for the information, and you can’t remember everything.
Are you taking notes of the people you’re meeting? At the end of every roundtable, I’m writing down who was there and what’s sticking with me about them. It’s been a lifesaver as far networking goes—even without going back to them, I’m doing a much better job than usual connecting names with faces.
One of my colleagues gave me another great tip—at the end of the day, before you head down to the bar, go through all those business cards and put notes there. Six months from now, when you’re trying to remember who the guy with the beard that ran a similar sized theatre…somewhere…was, that five-word note will save you from three hours of Googling.
Talk to everyone
Even if you’re shy, put yourself out there as much as you can. Conferences are weird. Everyone’s here for the same reason, and no one knows everyone in the room. The people you meet expect to hear about you, they expect to hear about your organization, and they probably really like to talk about work. You’ve got an easy in.
Not only that, but most of the folks here are in a great position to either help you, help your organization, or be helped by you. Even the presenters will appreciate knowing that you’re really taking something away from their panel.
If you’re an emerging leader, (and since you’ve read this far into a post for conference newbs, I think that’s a safe bet) don’t be afraid to talk to someone you admire or you consider “out of your league.” They were in the same boat once.
Pack a sweater
This year’s Convention was in San Antonio. It was 100 degrees outside, and I packed accordingly. Inside the conference it was a balmy 68 degrees. I was freezing. Learn from my mistakes. Bring a sweater. (Editor’s Note: We always warn attendees to bring those layers, but some have to learn the hard way! :0) )
Take some personal time
There’s enough going on over the course of your stay to keep you busy from sunrise to sunset, and that’s without including happy hours, receptions, after-hours events, and pub crawls.
There’s going to be at least one block of sessions that doesn’t appeal to you. Don’t feel obligated to go—take time to sit by the pool, look over your notes, watch the free HBO, or write a blog post about what to do with your personal time. You’re going to be on the brink of information overload—give yourself a rest. That way, you’ll be at the best for the sessions that really matter to you.
Have any advice or stories you want to share? Leave a comment!
(Editor’s Note: This entry was originally posted on Johnny’s An Eye on the Arts blog on June 10, 2012.)