Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tips From a First-Time Conference Attendee

In less than three weeks, many of us will convene in Seattle for the National Conference. Personally, I am excited that NACAC is coming to Seattle as I have grown to really love this city after making many trips to visit various area high schools, community based organizations, and college fairs.

Over time, I have met the locals - thousands of friendly and talented students, faculty, and administrators that will play host and that you too will soon get to meet. I know that Michael McKeon has already shared wisdom of his hometown and in my upcoming blog postings I hope to offer up my own Seattle favorites that might be helpful to you if you’re looking for a good scone, bookstore, or an excellent place near the conference site for a walk/run. Stay tuned…

But for my first blog posting (I know, a bit late!), I’d like to provide a few nuggets to those that will call Seattle their first national conference ever. While I begin my eighth year in admission, Seattle will only be my second conference attended. As a newbie in Austin (last year’s site), there was quite a bit going on all-around and at times I felt overwhelmed. Overall I learned quite a bit, I met and reacquainted myself with other colleagues in the field, and got to see a good part of Austin. It was a blast! From that experience, I offer five things that you should do as a neophyte to the NACAC Conference.

Attend the First-Time Attendees’ Orientation: You’re not alone! When I attended the orientation in Austin, I was surprised to see hundreds of other first-timers at the event. This will also be a great opportunity to ask questions about the schedule, locations, etc. They might give you some “flair” that reads “first-timer” – don’t worry or feel embarrassed about wearing the pin. People actually treat first-timers really nice at these conferences, so wear the piece of “flair” proudly!

Keynote speakers should not be missed: Yes, you should definitely make time for a number of educational sessions. But after a busy day, it might be in your mind to call it an early day and not attend the keynotes. Don’t – you may be missing out on one of the best things about the NACAC Conference! I was so moved and learned so much by hearing the keynote speakers last year in Austin. I anticipate that this year’s lineup of speakers will not disappoint: Randy Snow, Sherman Alexie, and Dr. Zenobia Hikes.

Take some time to explore the host city: Seattle is an awesome city, home to great sports, a vibrant arts scene, and incredible city parks. I will offer up some suggestions in upcoming blog postings but for now the advice is to take some time out and explore!

Be social: One of the most important reasons to attend the National Conference is to meet new people and catch-up with those that you already know. Attend the many social gatherings that are planned throughout the conference. Schedule coffee with a colleague at one of Seattle’s cafes.

Represent: I don’t mean to sound like a huge prude but this last to-do is an important one. Remember that while the National Conference is a time to celebrate all of the amazing things that make our profession so great, it is also a chance for you to represent your home office/organization.

One last important piece of advice: don’t do anything at the National Conference that you wouldn’t want your boss to know about the next morning. I cannot speak from personal experience, but I have heard a handful of stories of things that have happened at these conferences that have negatively impacted professional reputations. Have fun (you better!) – but remember to be responsible.

Take some (if not all) of these things into consideration as you begin your first National Conference and you should not feel as anxious as I did last year. See you there!

Solomon K. Enos
Associate Director of Admission
Stanford University