This post first appeared on my column on the Associated Collegiate Press website. You can get more tips and information about collegiate media on that site.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, I’m not talking about Christmas, although that’s pretty great too. I’m referencing the Fall National College Media Convention.
You’re in for a real treat if you’re headed to the annual convention, hosted by Associated Collegiate Press and College Media Association, for the first time this year. If you’re making a return conference trip, you already know what I mean. Maybe we could call it Nerd Christmas from now on?
I love the annual convention because of all of the friends I’ve made, all of the students I get to meet and (hopefully) help, and how much I learn while I’m there. Plus, who wouldn’t love being surrounding by a bunch of journo nerds? There is something rejuvenating about spending a few days with others who are just as nerdy about journalism as I am.
I can’t remember how many years I’ve been to Fall National College Media Convention, but it’s been quite a few. As a result, I’ve learned a few things about what to do and what to avoid, regardless of what city we’re in. Here are my 12 Ways to Get the Most Out of College Media Convention.
1. Buy Snacks
You’ll be busy most of the day while you’re at conference. You probably won’t have time to eat much until dinner. Vending machines are expensive and inconvenient and, if the conference provides food options, the lines often are long. Visit a store when you arrive in Austin and grab some snacks and bottles of water so you can power through the day without passing out. Then plan great dinners every night as a way to bond with your staff and explore the city.
2. Live tweet and follow the hashtag
Use social media to share what you’re learning with others. The hashtag for the conference is #collegemedia15. I’ll meet you over on Twitter @profkrg.
I encourage you to follow the conversation, even if you aren’t attending the conference. I promise you’ll learn a lot, even from afar.
A couple of words of advice. It’s great to share your learning, but try not to spend the entire conference with your face in your phone or laptop. Remember that you should network with those who are there.
Also, don’t use the conference hashtag to share how drunk or hungover you are. That is not the kind of professional reputation you want to build.
3. Wear your nametag
You’ll meet a ton of people, so it’s important for them to remember who you are and vice versa. This also helps you identify conference attendees with whom you should network.
Check out my post on giving an elevator pitch and have yours ready before the conference.
4. Bring professional materials
I am the worst about forgetting to bring my business cards to conferences. Without cards, I have to write down my name, email address, blog URL, etc. for anyone who asks. It really hinders networking when you’re unprepared. Here’s a short list of things to bring:
- business cards,
- copies of your resume,
- examples of your professional work, and
- copies of your most recent publications.
There will be an area to distribute your pubs and collect those from other schools. Also, don’t forget your Best of Show entries.
5. Dress for success
You should “dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” I wear professional dress all day and in the evening during the entire conference. Remember that networking is a huge portion of the conference’s purpose. Dress up from arrival to departure (yes, even on the plane). If I see you in your PJs, I’m judging you.
6. Attend sessions
You are at the conference to network and learn. Too many times people seem to go to conferences to drink or sight see. I’m really not a wet blanket. I want you to have fun. I also want you to take full advantage of the conference by attending as many sessions as you can each day. If you wake up early and attend sessions, there is plenty of time for fun in the late afternoon and evening.
7. Spread out
There are more than 300 sessions at conference. The best way to get the most out of your time there is to spread out your staff. I love to meet with the staff and map out who will go to what sessions each day. You can do this with the conference book or on the app. You will learn a lot more if you spread your staff out among the sessions. Then, debrief and share what you’ve learned during breaks and at dinner.
8. Always have a pen and paper
It’s impossible to remember everything you learn at a conference. You’ll also generate a lot of great ideas while listening to speakers or talking with others. Be prepared to document your ideas during the entire conference. I know it’s old school, but the best way to do this is to keep a pen and paper with you at all times. I usually carry my phone and iPad too, but the pen is my tool of choice. It never goes dead.
9. Keep an idea file
You will get so many great ideas at conference that it’s important for you to have a way to organize them. Put them all in the same notebook or clip file. Make a plan to use them as soon as possible. Where do your new ideas fit into your current goals and objectives?
10. Gather swag
Everyone likes free stuff. Be sure to gather handouts, books, pens, notepads, etc. from the trade show floor. The exhibitors are coming to talk to you and bring you treats. Don’t be shy. If you won’t use the goods, someone in your organization will. It’s fun to bring conference swag back to your staff. And, let’s be honest, you can never have too many pens and reporter notebooks in the newsroom.
11. Talk to strangers
Don’t attend conference just to chat with the people you know or hang out with your own staff. Use this opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.
Enjoy your time at conference to embrace your inner nerd. Conferences are one of the few places where you can sit and debate or discuss the minutiae of your industry. Take advantage of being surrounded by the most intelligent people in your business. Learn from them while you can.
12. Share with your staff
You become invigorated with all you’ve learned at conference, but you’re tired and busy when you return to campus. We don’t always do a good job of passing on what we’ve learned to the staff. Schedule a time now to share with your staff some key things you learned at conference. Do this while you’re at conference or the week you return, so everyone gets something from your conference experience. You may want to consider live tweeting the conference sessions you attend, then creating Storify posts for your staff so they can learn too.
I hope this post helps you feel more excited and prepared for conference. It’s really a fun, nerdy time. I’ll see you in Austin! Be sure to stop me and say hello.