I have been viewing the recent #CILIPconf18 comments on twitter with interest and noted that there were some first timers there. As an ultimate professional development opportunity our library industry conferences are often inspiring and provide real networking events to connect us with a wider professional network. They are also very expensive. Often in the library world if you want to attend a conferences you need to be prepared to part fund the costs as library services no longer send multiple staff. This investment in our own careers is an important step to make and I have always believed personal responsibility for career development, and personal commitment to professional learning a key for career advancement.
This was beautifully articulated by @thorpe_clare in her LinkedIn article Professional Development — Whose role is it anyway . Another interesting article that really resonated with me outlined all the reasons why not to go to an industry conference, especially if you are an introvert. Unfortunately I did not keep that link but I have built some to dos that sparked from my memory of the article. Recently I was also part of a webinar for Australian Library Information Association regarding things to remember when attending a conference which sparked even more ideas to share with you. If your organisation or you are funding your conference attendance it is vital that you get the most from the attendance. To do this preparation is the key.
Outline what you want to get out of the conference. One of the key reasons to attend a conference in person is to build your professional network. This helps both your own career but also the connections you can bring back to your organisation. Here are three key opportunities you can prepare for ahead of time and get yourself ready for the connecting to the crowds.
- Meet one of the speakers: Reach out to two or three people you want to meet ahead of time and book a meeting with them. If you wait till the conference everyone will want to meet them so you may miss out. Email a week or two in advance asking for 15 minutes of their time. Make sure you are open to meet them whenever it is convenient to them — early in the morning in the hotel lobby? Absolutely can. Also offer to buy them a coffee so that you are bringing something to the table too — not just asking for their time and expecting it. Library professionals welcome meeting other industry professionals too so do not feel that you are not important enough to meet. This also means you have really looked at the program and know what you want to get out of the conference as a learning outcome.
- Connect with your peers. Say hello to someone shyer than you. Find that person looking nervous and alone and introduce yourself. You can do this on twitter too if there are tweeters who appear to have views similar to yours and organise a tweet meetup to connect to them. Key connecting questions can be about the conference itself asking them what they hope to get out of the conference, which sessions have they highlighted as a must and if they are attending the conference dinner. Easy questions that start the conversations happening. Remembering to prepare some of these questions means you will not be too shy to ask them as they will be at the forefront of your mind.
- Attend the social events — to meet people you do need to show up. This is a no brainer but does need to be said. No darting back to your hotel room as a break from the crowds. Endurance is the key to lasting the conference journey — you can have a complete break when you head back home.
Passion is what drives librarians to attend conferences and invest in learning, networking and meeting our vendor partners. Conferences are often intense and constant and my teams often groan when I attend conferences as I am emailing them with the good ideas while I am listening to the speaker so that we can immediately start investigating whether the idea is feasible for our library service. I really recommend that you commit to a real takeaway that you will action. To get the most out of our passion and investment here are two more tips.
- Apply what you learn immediately. You need to go to the conference with the intention of not just learning but of applying what you will learn, especially if you have funded the professional development yourself. You can email yourself a note to start the idea, find out more or start doing the new thing straight away. Work out what you want to experience ahead of time and set a quota — I am going to come away with three ideas that I can apply in my professional life from this conference.
- Talk to the vendors: An often underutilised source of information and ideas are the vendors. Learning from them what their future areas of research are, key challenges they are facing and what they know regarding other technological advances that they may be connecting with are key to getting the most complete conference experience. In the Australian conference context the vendors do not expect to sell stuff at the conference. They too are looking for connections and learning and they see themselves as partners to the library industry which is why they invest in an exhibition. So do not ignore them. Look at the exhibition list and plan to connect with five key vendors that are working in areas that you are interested in. Plan some questions — what is an improvement you wish would happen in your LMS, eLibrary platform, Library app or book supplier and ask if this is on their radar. Ask them what their future looks like — is machine learning, Artificial Intelligence, personalisation on the horizon. You can get the picture of what I will be talking to the vendors about!
And finally, make sure you pick the right conference, one that you really want to invest your time, build your networks and invest your hard earned cash into. Ask yourself what will challenge you and what do you want to learn and how does the conference give back to the industry we are passionate about. Oh, and a colleague did suggest that comfortable shoes are a must — but those who know me know that heels are definitely comfortable for some.