How to Conference by Matthew Kearney

For many of you, going to conferences may not be a common occurrence, or perhaps the Fall 2015 MASFAP conference will be your first, so as you prepare to go on your voyage, here are nine things to keep in mind to make the conference the best experience for you.  It may not work for everyone, but I know I’ve followed these tips for conferences and I believe I’ve gotten the most I could out of them.

  •  Be well rested before you get to the conference.  Conferences are all day and night affairs, so you want to be sure you don’t have any issues with nodding off during sessions or missing out on evening activities because you need more sleep.  If you want to get the most out of a conference, you will likely be burning the candle at both ends for a few days!  This leads to the second tip.
  • Don’t stay in your room right after dinner.  Getting together with colleagues in an out of the office or non-structured setting is a great opportunity to get questions answered, gain new perspectives on how to do things, or just vent your frustrations.  The sessions during the day are valuable resources and will give great insight to the field, but conversations go to a deeper level in the evening.  Use this time to also work on tip number 3.
  • Network, Network, Network.  MASFAP provides many opportunities for you to engage with individuals from across the state as well as region and national levels.  Take this opportunity to connect with others from similar and different types of schools, as well as representatives of our vendors!  You will call on many of these people as you move through your career and people are willing and able to help.
  • Don’t sit with the same people for every meal.  Sometimes you want to sit with people you know at a conference to share information that is fresh on your mind that you want to bring back to the office, but try to mix it up and meet some new people at meals.  This provides an opportunity to do number 5.
  • Share.  If this is one of your first conferences or you are new to the field, you may not have a lot to say about different topics, but as you gain more experience, start to pay back what you get from the association.  Take the opportunity to share what you do or how you see things with others at the conference.  You are a valuable piece of the organization, but it doesn’t help if you stick to yourself.  This takes us to number 6.
  • If you are not comfortable meeting new people, get to know one person who does and let them introduce you.  It is sometimes difficult to walk up to a group of people you don’t know who are clearly good friends and work your way into the conversation.  First, I’ll say you will rarely be rebuffed if you pull up a chair.  However, if it is still not in your comfort zone, try to find someone who can introduce you.  There are a lot of outgoing, fun, and caring individuals in this association who want you to grow both professionally and personally, so let them do that.
  • Be prepared.  Look at the sessions ahead of time and know which ones you want to go to.  If you are going with multiple people from your institution, don’t have everyone go to the same sessions.  Split up and share back so you can get more information for your office to have.
  • Connect with others in your office.  I’ve been telling you over and over to branch out from your office at conferences, but make some time for getting together with your staff.  Some of the best team building we’ve had for our office has happened at these conferences.  Whether it’s a mechanical bull ride or zombie run in Indianapolis, shopping for needy high school students at the lake, performing skits for MASFAP’s Got Talent, or dancing the night away, people still talk about the fun times had and has helped bring us closer together.
  • Have Fun!  Financial Aid people know how to have a good time, and some of the best laughs you will have will be with those at the conference.  There is plenty of time to talk about work, but sometimes, you just want to cut loose and not worry about being a financial aid administrator for a while.  Your MASFAP family are there for that and my hope for you is that you take advantage of this.
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