Annual Meeting Advice: “What I wish I’d known…”

The Conference Veterans have plenty of tips today for navigating the conference like a pro (and saving your sanity in the process). Today’s post is the third entry in the 2014 Annual Meeting Advice series. You can review past entries here or select the Annual Meeting Advice category in the righthand column of the blog.

Question 3:

What do you wish you had known for your first annual meeting?

Conference Veteran Answers:

“It looks cliquey from the outside, but really everyone’s pretty darn nice. It’s just that we (the more, ahem, senior members) all know each other and this is our chance to hang out. We’re not being intentionally exclusive or snubbing you.”

“It gets cold in sessions–even in DC in July! So bring a sweater.”
“Ask the people you already know for introductions — you may have really cool friends-of-friends you never knew about! Also, people are pretty chill about others knitting during sessions, so don’t hesitate to bring a project if keeping your hands busy helps you stay on track.”

“That my daughter would be the only kid in the SAA child care! I felt bad for the sitter and for her.”

“That it was okay to walk out of a session mid-way. I still feel a little rude doing that, but having presented, I know it’s pretty normal and expected. Also, you may have to read between the lines of the session description because it sometimes doesn’t mean what you think it means.”

“I didn’t know what the ribbons were. Now I know they can be an ice-breaker–you can ask someone with a speaker ribbon what they’ll be presenting–and the first-timer ribbons mean that people will say hello and welcome you out of the blue.”

“Conferences are surprisingly draining. If you don’t have a room at the hotel, definitely find a place where you can escape if you need some down time. Don’t forget to remove your conference badge when you leave the hotel. Also, BEWARE the hotel coffee line if you have to be somewhere! Sometimes it can actually be quicker to walk to a nearby coffee shop outside of the hotel. On the other hand, if you have time to kill, the hotel coffee line is a great place to strike up conversations.”

“Don’t overload yourself! Don’t be afraid to miss a session if there’s nothing you’re interested in for the time slot. It’s ok to take a break and give yourself a mental break so you don’t go into information overload, or become so exhausted by being surrounded by people.”

“I’m never good at packing, so here’s something for people out there like me: bring an umbrella!”

“Committee meetings are open to nonmembers and SAA really tries to get new members involved in activities. Especially in sections and roundtables, volunteers are welcome. You cannot wait to be asked to do something – best to pick an area of interest and step up.”

“If you see someone whose name you recognize (e.g., someone whose articles you may have read in grad school or a Twitter user you follow), go up to them and introduce yourself. You might end up having a great conversation.”

“Take time for myself. Alone time recharges my batteries and helps me absorb all that learning better. It’s as easy as taking a walk to a non-conference-hotel coffee spot in the morning. Spend 1-on-1 time with new folks as well as friends. Friend time helps me de-stress; as a bonus, my archivist-friends give great professional advice. 1-on-1s with new people, for example via Lunch Buddies, allows me to build relationships that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to. Plus in my experience it’s easier to talk to one person away from the conference.”

“All of the [socializing and networking] opportunities.”

“By all means stay at the conference hotel if possible, because you’ll miss a lot of networking opportunities otherwise (I made this mistake at my very first SAA in Austin, TX, way back in 1985). Also, I wish I had known that it was common to ‘session hop’ if you’re not satisfied w/the session you start with–that is, it’s okay to discreetly leave (best if you can do so during a change in speakers) and quietly enter a different session. Which brings me, I guess, to my third response to this question, which is that it’s good to pick a main session and a backup session for every session slot.”

“Don’t go to every session. You might burn out on day one. Use your feet if a session is boring/over your head/you’re just tired. It’s not rude at all. Plan downtime, if you’re shy/nervous/introverted like me. Eat meals, alone if you need the mental space. Sometimes I plan for a nap/break in the afternoon, or lunch of last night’s leftovers in my room. Oh, and the ‘receptions’ is code for tons of yummy free food. Bring a flask (kidding) or 10 bucks for a beer to nurse. Allow someone to buy you a drink if it comes up.”

“You don’t have to do everything. Really, you don’t. There is a TON going on at SAA and it’s incredibly easy to get overwhelmed, so if you need to take a break midway through the day, do it! Nobody will judge you, and if you’re worried about missing something… well, that’s an excuse to talk to people to see what you’ve missed!

Also, power cords/power strips. If you are taking notes on a laptop/phone/tablet, bring these. You’ll be able to sit somewhere other than the back if you like, and if you make more outlets available you will be people’s hero.”

“I felt very anxious at my first meeting not knowing very many people. It does take time to connect, don’t try and meet everyone at once. Focus on the people you are speaking with–listen carefully to what they say and connect with them one-on-one.”

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