How to Make the Most of Your NCDA Conference Experience
By Samara Reynolds
Though attending a conference is a valuable professional development opportunity, it can also feel like a whirlwind of information, people, emotions, and ideas. To help participants at this year’s NCDA Global Career Development Conference have the best possible experience, we have crafted a list of suggestions that we feel is relevant for first-timers, young professionals, students, and anyone hoping to maximize their time at the NCDA Global Conference:
Prior to the Conference:
Download the Program Book from the conference website. Take the time to read all about the conference, including daily schedules and individual session details (this is a great way to spend your time while waiting in the airport!) You may also want to review the FAQs on the conference website, which will help you better understand the different program options and session formats (e.g., presentations, roundtables, centennial luncheon series, etc.).
Spending your time wisely at the conference:
Introduce yourself to one new person at each event or session. Meeting new people and expanding one’s professional network is one of the top-rated benefits mentioned by conference attendees of all ages and experience levels. People you meet at NCDA will often become valuable colleagues and contacts, as well as future conference buddies to reconnect with in years to come. Remember to exchange information and follow up post-conference.
Select at least one program aimed at your own professional development or personal interests. There are a number of sessions offered that focus on practitioner wellness, career advancement, entrepreneurship, and other topics that keep us growing and thriving in this field. While you may find yourself mostly attending sessions that address your clients’ needs, be sure to check out at least one program that will benefit you personally or professionally.
Attend networking and social events [without any fear of awkwardness]. Though we already mentioned that networking is perhaps the greatest benefit of attending the conference, many people feel a bit uneasy walking into a big social event. Here are a few tips to put you at ease and energize you around the idea of connecting in this setting:
1. Pretend you are hosting. Start conversations with the aim of making someone else feel welcome and less alone in a big room. Engage with someone who does not yet have someone to talk to, or invite someone you met at an earlier session to join a conversation with you and a colleague.
2. Seize the opportunity to talk to an NCDA leader, “celebrity” in the field, or more seasoned professional in person. How often will you be in the same room with someone whose name you have seen on a textbook or in an article you referenced in grad school? Strike up a conversation and reap the benefits of having these individuals and their wisdom at your fingertips.
3. If you are a graduate or undergraduate student attendee, please join us at Student Networking Social (TBD). This event will be a greatchance to relax, connect, and reflect upon your eventful first full day.
Participate in the First-Timers Session or State Leadership Training. Based on feedback from last year’s conference participants, highlights of attending the First-Timers Session included meeting NCDA officers, connecting with other first-timers/new members/young professionals, and getting more excited about the conference experience and all that is offered. For returning participants, even if you aren’t a state CDA president, you may want to check out the State Leadership Training session to learn about leadership at the state level, meet current, future, and past presidents of state CDAs, and see how you can get more involved.
Sit in on a Committee Meeting. Open committee meetings will be held Tuesday during lunch. These are meant for current and potential committee members, as well as those simply interested in common topics impacting NCDA. If you are seeking out your niche in this organization, attending a committee meeting is a great way to meet people and get inspired to contribute further.
Invite a new contact to share a meal with you. The best way to get to know someone new may very well be to break bread together. Going out to breakfast, lunch, dinner, or coffee with a fellow participant is a perfect way to connect on a more personal level in a large, hectic conference environment. Consider sitting next to someone new at lunch, asking a contact to join you for a meal after a session, or including a new person in an established group of colleagues headed to grab a bite.
Following up on your experience:
Connect via social media at and after the conference. There are many ways to use technology and social media to enhance your conference experience, keep track of new contacts, and deepen your involvement with NCDA post-conference. We encourage you to check out the Cyber Café, connect to people you meet via one or more of your social networks, and join the NCDA LinkedIn group. You may want to track your experience via Twitter and share useful information with those that can’t be in Boston. You can also follow @NCDA or @NCDAwebeditor now and well after the event. Remember to post regular tweets about the conference (#NCDADenver) and/or start a discussion on the NCDA LinkedIn or Facebook group to be entered into our Social Media Contest!
Reach out to any presenters of sessions you wanted to check out but missed. There are a ton of programs to choose from and you will undoubtedly have to make the tough choice to attend one session over another . Don’t be afraid to follow up – via email, social media, or in person if you can – with the presenters of sessions you missed. They may be willing to share their handouts/presentation with you and engage in further conversation on the topic. Also check out the Handouts table (typically located in the registration area) that allows participants to “take one” of any extra materials.
This compilation of suggestions came together via results from last year’s participant survey, my own experiences at NCDA 2011, 2012 and other large-scale professional development events, and thoughtful discussion amongst current and future leaders of the organization. Whether you implement one of these ideas or all of them, we hope reading through this list helps you create a more meaningful, comfortable, and energizing experience at the NCDA Global Conference.
Samara Reynolds, M.Ed., is a Career Counselor at the University of North Carolina School of Law. She has been invested in the field of career development since 2005 and has served in related roles at Duke University, North Carolina State University, Meredith College, and Virginia Tech. She earned her B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech and her M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from NC State. Samara is Past-President of the North Carolina Career Development Association (NCCDA) and a member of the 2012-2013 NCDA Leadership Academy. You can contact Samara via email at email@example.com.
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