by Stephanie Pallante and Cynthia Billington
It’s crazy to think just how long ago it was when both Cindy Billington and I attended our first ever NACE Annual Conference! While the time has passed so incredibly fast, we can both recall very clearly how nervous, how uncertain, and how overwhelmed we both were! For me, being in New York City—in the heart of Times Square—was in and of itself overwhelming, but adding in the fact that I was at “the premier” event for those in our field left me a bit nervous. How would I figure out where to go, what was important, and who should I be connecting with??!
Cindy’s story is similar. Her first conference was in Milwaukee and was NACE's 50th anniversary. She remembers laughing at herself for not doing what she preached to students for years: Prepare. Network. Follow-up. She took pages and pages of notes but failed to take advantage of the real value of the conference. She didn’t connect with her peers.
Now, numerous years later, along with having attended multiple conferences, planned a few others, and even represented our membership on the NACE Board of Directors, we think we have collected a wealth of experience to help you successfully navigate your first NACE Annual Conference!
Top 10 Tips for a Successful NACE Conference:
- Plan ahead. Review the conference agenda, research the keynote speakers, and plan your schedule around the breakout sessions and any receptions that you want to attend. By planning your schedule, you have an idea what your expected outcome will be for the event. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “plan your work and work your plan,” so make sure you know what you are going to do during the conference and then go do it. If the keynote speakers are authors, purchase and read their books ahead of time.
- Review the Attendee list. You may identify individuals who you want to meet, those who you’ve met in the past, or even colleagues you weren’t even aware are attending! Building out a “network plan” will help to connect and collaborate! (To find out who is attending #NACE19, go to MyNACE> Events>I’d like to>view attendees.)
- Download the #NACE19 app. It will be your one-stop shop for agenda, venue maps, attendee lists, social media, and more! Since you’ll already have your phone in hand, what better way to navigate the conference than using technology! (Search for NACE19 or NACE in the app store on iOS devices or in the Play Store for android. Tap on download or install. Lob in to see the schedule of events, expanded descriptions of concurrent sessions, and a map of the expo hall. You can message colleagues through the app.)
- Join pre-conference conversations through various social medial platforms (use #NACE19 on Twitter) or in the NACE Community! Start connecting with those who are attending the conference, which builds energy for the event and offers opportunities to schedule side-meetings as well. You will be surprised the number of attendees who take full advantage of this opportunity.
- Take the Mears shuttle from the Orlando airport to Disney Swan & Dolphin property! There will likely be other NACE Conference attendees on the ride with you, so use this as an early opportunity to meet and network with other conference attendees! Get a jump on meeting your colleagues and even comparing workshop interest and schedules! Cindy actually met two first time attendees on her shuttle in New Orleans last year and offered some of the tips on this list to maximize their experience. You might also find some NACE attendees on your plane. Look for the NACE logo.
- Make sure to do a walk through! Most conference centers are large and can be confusing, especially when you have a short amount of time to get from one session to another. Use your workshop calendar and room assignments to get a lay of the land and distance between rooms and get your daily step count in while doing so!! And remember, your NACE19 Conference app has the site map!
- Make sure to check out the Expo Hall. Any and all vendors that impact our profession will be there to talk to, learn from, and perhaps influence your go forward strategy! And of course, pick up some swag to bring home with you!
- Never Eat Alone: Not to steal the title of Keith Ferrazzi’s best-selling book, but this concept should be the first commandment of attending conferences. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with your colleagues attending the conference. Step out of your comfort zone and even split your dining time between current and new colleagues.
- Bring a large supply of business cards. Introduce yourself to new colleagues and exchange information! While the NACE app is great for this as well, good old-school business cards still lead the way! Take the time to connect with those individuals after the conference, even if it’s just to say it was great to meet them at NACE!
- Leverage the NACE staff, Board of Directors, and volunteers throughout the conference. They will help to answer questions, point you in the right direction and encourage you to make the most of your NACE 19 experience!
And now for the BONUS tip! You absolutely, positively need to attend the NACE19 First-Timer’s Session! It’s a great place to connect with NACE Leaders and other first-timers, get practical information about finding your way around the conference and even simply find other colleagues who are looking for someone to have breakfast/lunch/dinner with! You’ll be hearing more about the First-Timer’s session in an upcoming blog! Mark this on your schedule: First-Timers Session, 5 – 6 p.m., Monday, June 3, Ballroom Level, Northern Hemisphere, Salon B/C. (Sponsored by Enterprise Holdings)
But the best piece of advice we could give is to ENJOY NACE! The camaraderie, energy, development and engagement keeps us coming back year after year! See you in Lake Buena Vista!