One of the most exciting parts of the spring semester is conference season! Whether you are attending your own organization’s leadership program or a conference like AFLV, NGLA, NACA, SGLA, these programs are great opportunities to understand how you can grow as a leader, better serve your community, and make an impact. 

But, did you know there is a way to attend a conference well? Follow these easy steps to make the most of your conference experience.

Before the Event

  • Understand what is expected of you – Getting to attend these programs is a great opportunity, but also a privilege in so many ways. Take some time to ask your advisor, staff and peers what is expected of you. What is required? What is expected of your behavior and interactivity? What do you need to bring back?
  • Download, review, prepare – Most programs have a website and/or mobile app where you can find all the information including travel details, educational session schedule, and resources. Set aside some time to review this content, download the app and familiarize yourself with how the week/weekend will run. This will prevent any confusion when arrive because once you’re there, it’s off to the races.

At the Event

  • Immerse yourself in the experience (in a way that is right for you) – These events can be so much fun, but also really overwhelming. Make sure you understand what breaks exist in the schedule and what parts may be required. During optional programming or maybe evenings without programming, don’t feel you have to attend if taking some time to yourself would make you a better attendee for the required parts.
  • Network and get to know others – You will be around students just like you who are trying to do great things too! As you meet people in educational sessions, networking socials or meals, genuinely connect! Get to know them, ask them about their experience, exchange ideas. It may lead to a new friend with similar experience who could be a resource and support when you get back to campus.

Educational Sessions, Showcases and Keynotes

  • Divide and conquer – If you are attending a conference with a delegation of your peers, make sure you spread yourselves out among sessions to maximize the learning. There are plenty of sessions to go around. Consider attending a session on behalf of another leadership role in your organization who may not be at the conference.  

TIP: Hold a delegation meeting before you leave to determine who will go to which sessions. Avoid more than 2 people from your delegation in a single session.

TIP: Pay attention to the session’s intended audience – session descriptions will tell you who the session is meant for. For example: if you are an undergraduate student, avoid sessions where the audience says advisors, professional staff, graduate students, or speakers/agents.

  • Actively engage – Every presenter structures their programs a little differently. Some may just present, others may ask you to discuss with one another, others may give you an activity. Remember this presenter designed your session this way for a reason to help you learn the content most effectively, so participate and engage in the content! Be sure to take good notes too!
  • Thank the presenter and connect! – After the session, be sure to thank the presenter and feel free to ask any additional questions specific to your experience, chapter or institution. How? A simple thank you as you exit, asking one-on-one in the room after the program, or reaching out in the conference app or the contact information they shared (email, social media, etc.). Some may be able to answer it right then or some may suggest setting up some time to chat during a break or a meal. Regardless, show them some appreciation for their knowledge and time!

After the Event

  • Share the knowledge – Many times not everyone in your organization is able to attend the event. Take some time to share notes with others, your biggest takeaways, and the connections you made. If you had a delegation with you, hold a meeting together to debrief the experience and learning.

Apply the knowledge – You learned a lot, now it’s time to apply it! Review your notes and decide which things you may be able to do now versus what may make sense later. Don’t feel the need to do everything at once. Prioritize what you learned and apply it accordingly. Unsure how? Connect with your advisor or maybe reach back out to the presenter!