All of a sudden, ASAE Annual is just around the corner. Since I’ve been to many Annual Meetings, I’d like to share some tips I’ve learned along the way.
Establish your goals.
Don’t wait until the opening keynote to think about what you want to accomplish at the conference. You have a limited amount of time and energy to spend while you’re in Detroit. What’s your focus?
If education is your focus, what problems do you want to solve? What challenges do you want to address? What opportunities do you want to explore? What do you want to learn to do your job better or to advance in your career?
Education comes from many sources, not only sessions, but also fellow attendees. It’s not just networking—you’re learning, too. What type of people do you want to meet? Those with the same type of position as you, or those who are where you want to be in the next few years? Or do you want to reach out and help those who are coming up in the profession?
What do you want to learn from other attendees? Think about the questions, problems, and challenges you have. Be willing to share your own successes and failures.
Take advantage of first-timer resources.
ASAE has many resources for first-time attendees, including The Hive, a lounge (sponsored by DelCor) for Annual newbies. Stop by The Hive to meet staff and volunteers who will answer questions and provide guidance for navigating your first Annual. Or hang out and chat—the lounges are just another place to learn, after all.
To help you get your bearings, Convention Center tours leave from The Hive on Saturday. Or, pop by from 7:30 to 8:30 each morning to meet up with other first-timers and conference veterans alike.
Wear your “newbie” label proudly.
Spot other first-time attendees by looking for the bee sticker on badges. “First Timer” ribbons will also be available at the registration desk. This “flair” gives you the perfect excuse to strike up a conversation with a fellow newbie. Don’t be surprised if you encounter other attendees (even DelCorians) wearing the bee in solidarity.
Read ASAE emails and website resources.
ASAE sends several emails ahead of the conference about events and ways to maximize your time at the meeting. Take time to read these before you arrive.
Check out the Annual website. In particular, you may want to browse these pages:
- First Time Attendees page
- Attendee list
- Educational handouts that will help you select sessions to attend
- Detroit Tours are a fun way to meet others in a smaller group setting
It’s easy to get lost at a huge event like Annual. Before you go, get advice from people who have been there.
Open yourself to all educational opportunities.
If your goal is to get the best education you can in 3 days, you’ll need to plan ahead. Download the ASAE Events app and check off the sessions that interest you. Don’t just select one session per time slot—have a plan B and C too.
Conferences are a great time to let your brain run wild. Capture those great ideas and session notes using whatever method works best for you—maybe in a notebook or in the memo app on your phone—just don’t overly complicate things.
You’ve probably heard the cliché that the best education happens in the convention center hallways or hotel bars. Find out who else you know is going (start by checking the Attendee list above), get their cell phone number, and arrange to text each other to meet up during downtimes for a coffee or to stroll the expo floor together.
The expo floor is another educational opportunity, especially if you want to learn more about technology or other products and services that are relevant to your job. Giveaways are fun, but try not to envision yourself on “Supermarket Sweep.” Focus on interaction, not stuff. Ask exhibitors how other associations like yours are using their product or service. Vendors are a great source of ideas and information.
If you plan to research or purchase a specific service or product in the near future, focus on those exhibitors. For example, if your association plans to purchase a new association management system (AMS) in the next year, visit AMS vendors. Ask them for tips on the requirements gathering and selection process. Talk about your challenges and ideas, and get a sense of how their system might help solve them.
Here’s an insider tip: many vendors have evening receptions for prospects and clients. If you truly are a prospect, you might get an invitation.
During shuttle rides, sessions, meals, and breaks, talk to the people around you. Many long-lasting friendships have started this way.
Go to as many social events as you can—that’s a huge part of Annual. And, that’s why ASAE makes a big deal of their opening and closing events. They know the importance of getting people together.
If big events aren’t normally your thing, take comfort in knowing that half the people there feel the same as you and are doing their best not to show it. It’s okay to be nervous. Think of some questions ahead of time. People like talking about their work and life. Be a good listener—that will take the pressure off you and make you an easy person to hang out with.
Take a break.
Not everyone can completely escape work while at Annual. Cut yourself some slack; otherwise it can get really stressful trying to juggle it all. You don’t have to go to every education session.
If you really need to get some work done, take your tablet with you, sit yourself down in a lounge, and commit to working for an hour. Then, when you’re done, you can get back to the conference.
Annual is a special experience that only comes once a year. Make the most of your time while you’re there. Come back with new ideas, new knowledge, and new friends.