by Shelagh Donnelly
Congrats! You’ve either secured your employer’s support or invested in yourself by registering for Summit 2017. You’ve completed your registration, and booked your travel and accommodation. You’ve checked the list of speakers, and identified people and sessions to educate and inspire you.
What’s next? Well, apart from arranging for coverage at the office, you’ll want to extend that thinking to your home. Whether it’s plants, pets or people, you may want to coordinate care for while you’re away. I’ve also begun checking the long-range weather forecasts – and made a note to bring sunscreen! Having a sense of the climate also helps with sorting out what to pack. You want clothing that’s suitable not only for Summit, but also for fun in the Big Easy. Have you had a look yet at all the tour options that are available? That lineup is almost as impressive as the roster of speakers at Summit 2017.
Beyond the Logistics
All these details represent the logistical aspects of preparing to attend a conference, but you may also want to start thinking about how to take advantage of the networking opportunities such events afford you.
While I attend conferences to enhance my knowledge base and sharpen skills, I also value the opportunity to form new professional contacts and friendships, and deepen existing ones. Apart from personal fulfillment, these contacts can also be valuable to you and your employer.
Does that sound like you, or do you quietly stress over whether you’ll meet counterparts with whom you can connect?
Joined at the Hip?
Or perhaps you turn to a valued colleague or fellow admin. professional before even committing to registration. You may coordinate schedules so that you travel together or head out on the town for dinner on arrival. Have you begun discussing a bit of sightseeing or shopping with your friend or colleague? You might be planning to review the Summit agenda from your respective offices or on the plane, to decide which sessions you’ll attend together. In this case, it could be a given that you usually save seats for one another for lunches and coffee breaks.
Sound familiar? It’s all too easy to do, but I encourage you to consider that all conferences represent opportunities to stretch yourself. Press outside the boundaries of your comfort zone. Apart from exposing yourself to new people, that also implies exposing yourself to new ways of thinking. While this year marks my first time at Summit, I think about other conferences that are on my annual calendar. At one of these, I typically meet up with a former colleague who has become a long time friend, and we of course spend time together.
Not registered yet?
You’ll find everything you need to know about the conference here.
If you’d like some help getting employer support, IAAP has made it easy. Download this handy tool kit to present your case to management. It never hurts to ask.
Conferences As Opportunities for Growth
However, we also seek some balance between nurturing existing networks and intentionally growing them. We make a point of consciously seeking out new faces and ideas at conferences. As a result, and for the most part, we attend different concurrent sessions from one another.
Then, over dinner or even post-conference, we bring one another up to speed on insights we gained and presentations we attended. This in itself adds another layer of value to our separate investments of time and registration fees. While it’s a treat to catch up and spend time together, this is not done at the expense of meeting new people or expanding our respective circles.
Think about it: Without opening yourself up to exposure to new people, or a better understanding of people you bump into infrequently, you’re restricting your opportunities for personal and professional growth. Treat Summit and other conferences as investments in your network, and then nurture that network.
Breaking the Ice
I’m a member of a couple of professional associations that open each conference with educational versions of speed dating. I’ve been honoured to serve as a Roundtable facilitator at speed mentoring sessions designed to welcome first-time conference attendees. There, newbies receive even more professional development than they otherwise would, and they also meet other first time attendees. The speed mentoring facilitators consistently go out of their way to ensure newcomers know they’re welcomed.
Looking at the IAAP Summit 2017 program, you’ll see it’s been well designed to facilitate networking opportunities. Here are just some of them. If they appeal to you, check your registration. Depending on your registration package, you may need to purchase ala carte registration for some of these.
- Connect Lounge – This is open Saturday through Tuesday. You can charge your hardware devices, check your email, and meet other similarly focused admin. professionals.
- Morning Exercise – If the thought of a 6:00 a.m. exercise session isn’t your thing, skip down to the next option. If you do like an early start to fitness, you’ll find like-minded people at these sessions, which are offered Sunday through Tuesday.
- First-Time Attendee Orientation – If you’re a first-timer, don’t miss it!
- Speed Networking – IAAP takes a strategic approach with these sessions, in which registered participants complete brief profiles and are then matched with people from the same sector or industry, or with shared interests.
- Foundation of IAAP Celebration – I promise you that I would mention this event and the next one even if one of my Real Careers alumni wasn’t on the Foundation’s Board of Directors! The Celebration takes place at 5:15 p.m.
- Foundation of IAAP Silent Auction – This event runs throughout the day on Monday; have you attended it before?
Don’t Wait for Someone Else to Approach You
Whether you attend one of these networking-friendly sessions, or find yourself alone in a concurrent session, don’t wait for others to approach you. You don’t want to be a bull in a china shop, but you do want to be prepared to actively listen to those around you, ask questions and contribute to conversations.
Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert or an ambivert, you’ll find your way—and, if you’re unfamiliar with the ambivert term, you can read my article on the term by clicking here.
Conferences also represent opportunities for knowledge exchange among peers, and people are often more generous than you may anticipate. I’ve been approached at conferences for advice or some informal mentoring, and have also departed for home with offers of support from others. This can take the form of promises (always fulfilled!) of templates, or strategies based on experience in situations similar to some I may be experiencing in the office. We don’t inappropriately give away proprietary information, but we do share information and the benefit of experience.
I participate regularly in conferences hosted by both Canadian and American professional associations, and continue to be struck by the generosity with which peers readily share their expertise. In my role, I coordinate an annual onboarding/orientation day. While still relatively new in the role, I returned home from my first U.S. conference armed with new orientation ideas from an astute and gracious Kentucky admin. professional. Back in my office, I modified and incorporated elements of her orientation protocols, all to the benefit of my organisation.
Honor the Spirit in Which Expertise is Shared
Beyond sending a thank you note after you’ve returned home, how else do you honour others’ generosity of spirit?
When I returned home with all sorts of new ideas for my orientation event, I also made a point of formally attributing that Kentucky pro (Beth) and her employer on the contents page of handout materials. She helped me enhance my work, and she and her employer deserved to be credited.
When you adapt shared materials for use in your workplace, I suggest that you do so with some acknowledgement/attribution that recognises the people and organisations who shared the benefit of their experience with you. It doesn’t matter that the person who helped you won’t necessarily see or hear the attribution firsthand; you can share such information in your thank you note.
Such acknowledgements can and should be subtle, but they also demonstrate to your employer some meaningful ROI (return on investment) for your participation in conferences. A side benefit of this approach is that you’re also signaling to those around you your readiness to give credit where it’s due. People are happy to collaborate with others who demonstrate respect for others’ ideas and expertise
How else can you honour others’ generosity in sharing their expertise with you, or their friendly welcome at Summit? It’s easy. Reciprocate where you can. Send sincere notes of thanks to let people know you appreciate them. Demonstrate the same thoughtfulness to others in your network, which will grow with every gesture of collegiality you make, every effort you make to help someone else feel part of the group, and with every bit of expertise you share.