Five Tips for an ASAE Annual Conference First Timer

We’re just a few weeks away from ASAE’s 2012 Annual Conference in Dallas, TX. If you’re like me, you’ve been looking forward to this since last August. I’ve already started looking at sessions I want to attend, events that look exciting, and can’t wait to connect with old and new friends in Dallas. Last year’s annual conference was my first ASAE conference and I thought I’d take some time to address some first-timer conference questions.

What do I wear?

I’ve always been really good at over packing and returning with outfits I didn’t touch. That’s just how I work and I have no plans to change that. You will probably want a few different outfits for you as a daytime conference attendee and others for evening activities. ASAE’s dress code for the conference is:

We want you to be comfortable so you can enjoy your meeting experience! Therefore, business casual dress is strongly encouraged. We suggest bringing a light sweater or jacket with you during the day as meeting rooms are air conditioned.

This means leave the suits (and ties) at home but look nice. I usually go with a dress shirt, dress slacks/khakis, and dress shoes during the day and dress down for evening events. Check out ASAE’s video, What to Wear to ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo’s Opening Reception as they’ve spelled it out for you this year:

The point is to be comfortable at the conference, so leave the suits at home. Unless you’ll be participating in the Monday Morning Awards Ceremony – you may want to consider something a little nicer for that. I’ve never been though so many someone else can chime in on this?

Do I have to have business cards?

YES! Bring more than you ever think you will ever need. You won’t believe the number of opportunities you will have to meet new people – and you will. One of the worst things that can happen is to run out of business cards at a conference.

Here’s a tip for those business cards you collect. After you’ve finished your conversation with someone, jot down a few notes on the back of the card to remind you about the conversation. Anything interesting they said, something that you want to follow up on, or a few fun facts that will help you remember them. Do it right after the conversation, or at least later that evening.

At the end of each day while I’m sitting in my hotel room I take all the cards I collected and make sure I have enough notes on the back of their card to remember them and the conversation once I’ve gotten back to the office. Most importantly, send a follow-up, “nice to meet you” email (at the least), or a hand-written card/note to thank them for their time after the conference. Isn’t the whole point of meeting someone to develop and continue the relationship? These will be the people you go to for advice, questions, resources on your day-to-day association life. For you younger association professionals, you may have even found a mentor to guide you along the way – I know I have!

What else should I bring?

This depends on your conference experience and how you work/network/learn the best. Below is my Pinterest board of items that I make sure I have when I’m on the conference floor (it’s a lot of stuff but I tend to be over-prepared).

These are just the items for my “day pack” while I’m at sessions and roaming around the conference center. Of course this means that after the daytime activities I’ll have to go back to my hotel room to drop these off before I head out for the night, which sometime can be cumbersome. If you’re looking for a good list of things to help you pack for the entire conference this Pack This Pad from Knock Knock may be useful for you.

Will I feel left out if I don’t know a lot of people?

You can feel left out if you want to be, but I don’t recommend it. Does it help to know some people at the conference already? Sure. Can you still enjoy yourself and have a great time even if you don’t know anyone? Absolutely, but it requires you be willing to put yourself out there and introduce yourself to other attendees. Introduce yourself to people at your table during sessions, in the hallways, at lunches, and evening social events (this is probably the easiest one). The conference can seem intimidating with so many people there but I promise but you’ll rarely meet someone who isn’t interested in meeting someone new.

Putting yourself out there can be scary for a lot of people, I think a great way to start is to tweet while you’re at the conference and converse using the #asae12 hashtag. It’s a great way to find out what’s happening during the conference, ask questions, and meet new people. Check out my twitter list of this year’s conference attendees and let me know if you want to be added.

How do I get the most out of attending?

It’s important to identify your current issues or questions. Pick a few and keep them in mind as you attend sessions and meet new people throughout the conference. The expo hall can be a great place to find solutions for your association as well.

Ask yourself, “Why am I attending this conference?” or “What do I want to leave this conference with?” The answers to these will be different for everyone but asking yourself is important in guiding your conference experience. Are you here for the education? Are you looking to expand your network of association professionals? You can have multiple reasons for attending, but it’s important you know all your reasons. Otherwise, you’ll spend all of your time floundering around trying to take in everything and I think most ASAE conference veterans will tell you, there’s just too much.

The people are the most important thing for me, it’s a chance for me to re-connect with people whom I don’t’ normally see regularly and to meet new people to expand my network of contacts. Expanding my network of contacts doesn’t mean just collecting a lot of business cards. With more than 5,000 association professionals at this conference, there’s just too many people for one person to meet. That shouldn’t discourage you from meeting as many people as you can though, but don’t be one of those people that just works every room. Make an effort to establish some real connections that will prove valuable to you for the rest of your association career. These are the people you will most likely be emailing and calling for advice and feedback on future projects and issues.

Did I forget anything? Ask away. If this will be your first ASAE annual conference what questions do you have? For my fellow conference attendee regulars what advice do you have for this year’s conference first timers?

What I learned on my first day at Great Ideas

Yesterday was the first day of ASAE’s Great Ideas conference. For those who are unfamiliar with either, ASAE is the American Society of Association Executives, a professional membership association dedicated to the growth and development of the association community and those who work within it. The Great Ideas conference is held in March and serves as a medium for new strategies, new ideas, and new tactics for association and association-related staff.

I’m fortunate enough to be here due to ASAE and its Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy is a new program from ASAE specifically focused on developing the next generation of association leaders (those with 2-5 years of association experience). During the two-year program students embark on a professional development journey of monthly webinars, professional growth readings, four conferences each with a pre-conference session designed specifically for the Leadership Academy. Acceptance to the leadership academy is based on an application process requiring short answer responses, resumes, and letters of recommendation.

If you’ve never been to one of ASAE’s Great Ideas conference, I strongly recommend you do. Being surrounded by 500 passionate and innovate association professionals is a rush. There are so many wonderful people to meet, stories to share, and new information to soak up. Below are some of the themes I’ve learned from the first day. These aren’t concepts I’ve learned during the idea labs, but wonderful advice, stories, tips shared from seasoned professionals outside of the idea labs. I was fortunate to have a handful of amazing conversations with some genuinely interesting people during the reception and throughout the evening.

The easy route isn’t always the right route
Break the habit of keeping yourself in a comfortable environment. If you are here with your colleagues, or a group of people you already know, take the opportunity to introduce yourself to a new group. It’s easy to share space with people you already know, but it’s always exciting to hear a new story from someone you just met

Never underestimate the power of your story
Everyone has amazing stories to share; about their personal and professional lives, family, how they turned an obstacle into an opportunity. People want to know your story, so go out there and share it. Never feel that your story isn’t interesting enough to the person next to you.

Network to build relationships, not for the sake of networking
It’s not about the number of business cards you collect. It’s about the number of conversations you have 6 months down the road. Meet with the intention of creating long-lasting relationships. It may not always work out that way but it should be your approach. I would rather spend the entire night developing potential long-term relations than have a stack of 25 business cards.

The only way to fail is to not try
What’s great about conferences is that everyone is always willing to talk and share. Sometimes it may not go beyond a brief conversation but imagine the possibilities if it does. Every conversation, no matter how long or short, is going to provide you value and interest, but you have to be willing to engage. The worst conversations are the ones that never happen.

Ask yourself the why & what question
Why do you want to go to this session? What do you hope to get out of it? Have a purpose for everything you do. Why do you want to meet them? What do you want to happen after you talk to them?

Flair is fun!
Enough said 🙂

I want to thank everyone who took the time to speak with me yesterday. Whether it was a quick introduction during a session, a hallway conversation, or an in-depth conversation over drinks at the end of the night. You continue to energize my passion for the association world. If you see me over the next few days, please say hello and share your story.

A special thanks to Jeff Hurt (@JeffHurt), Cynthia D’Amour (@CynthiaDAmour), Kiki L’Italien (@kikilitalien), Greg Melia (@gmeliaCAE), Holly Duckworth (@hduckworth), Glenn Thayer (@glennthayer), and Dean West for your insights and stories yesterday.

Lastly, a shout out to my leadership academy class of 2012. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to speak to one of us please do (look for the leadership academy blue square button on our name tags). I look forward to our two-year journey together.

I’d love to hear what you learned yesterday!

I can’t wait to get today started!