Maximize Your Conference Experiences

My first OWHE Conference was last year. I left the conference with an expanded network of other professionals in higher education and a set of new strategies to take back to work. The OWHE Conference offers a variety of sessions, activities, and personal growth experiences. Whether you are a first time conference goer or long-time conference attendee, the OWHE Board and I put together a list of tips to optimize your conference experience.  As you read through the list, I break down some of the OWHE Conference jargon – so for first timers, you have a clearer picture of what to expect! 

The list is organized in three sections: pre-conference, during the conference, and post-conference. The pre-conference section provides tips on how to prepare for the conference so you feel ready to enjoy the conference without too much stress. The during the conference section covers how to think about navigating conference activities, and the post-conference section gives advice on how to organize the weeks following the conference. 

Pre-conference

1. What to bring?

Dress up. Dress down. Wear what is the best reflection of you. You will be meeting other higher education professionals and potentially forging new relationships. It is important to be confident and comfortable! If you are going to take advantage of the FREE headshots, pack an outfit you would like to wear specifically for the photo and take a look at our Professional Headshot SuggestionsThere will be several opportunities for networking and connecting with others. Remember to pack a few business cards to hand out – and ask others for their business cards. 

2. “Like” and “Follow” OWHE on social media 

Conference attendees share pictures, quotes, and reflections from all the different presentations and activities during the weekend. Come prepared to stay up-to-date by following OWHE on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and liking OWHE on Facebook

​3. Create conference goals

We all have a reason for attending the OWHE Conference. Goals may include expanding your professional social network, discovering strategies to move-up in higher education administration, diving deeper into your understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion, or learning something new! Write your goal(s) down and remember your intentions throughout the conference in order to keep you focused and engaged.

​4. Plan your sessions

The conference agenda is posted on the OWHE website. With your goals in mind, review the agenda before attending and plan out what events and activities that most align with your goals. I also suggest having back-up sessions planned in case one session is full. 

Missed out on a session? Presenters are encouraged throughout the year to re-present their presentation as a webinar. This is done to give you access to presentations you are interested in, but could not attend during the event. 

​5. Bring questions!

The Unconference hour is a time where conference attendees create session topics. Session topics are created from questions or topics you, the conference attendee, is curious about exploring or looking deeply into with other conference attendees. Ideas are shared one hour before the unconference session starts with the entire conference group; then a board member then assigns each shared topic a room and every one breaks into their small groups. This is an exciting time to engage with others in a semi-structured way. 

Another way to brainstorm Unconference session ideas is thinking about what questions you had after a session. During the sessions, an attendee or presenter may share something or make a comment you want to continue talking about the time allotted to the session runs out. The Unconference sessions are a great time to propose the topic and continue talking. 

During the conference 

​​1. Networking

Conferences often have planned and unplanned networking opportunities. OWHE has two planned networking events - “Choose your own networking” and the post-conference social”. The “Choose your own networking” event has structured activities to help you guide you through the “get to know you” phase of networking. During the event, there are tables and areas of the room designated for different interests that may be a commonality between conference attendees. The post-conference social is a way to continue conversations (especially for those staying an extra night) and say goodbye to friends and colleagues.

If the planned networking events do not fit into your schedule, there are plenty of other opportunities to network throughout the conference. Meal time is a great time to enjoy a meal with new people, and Friday night is open for unstructured networking in the Salishan lounge. Also, before or after sessions and scheduled events, take some time to introduce yourself to other attendees sitting around you. Often presenters may ask you to discuss a question with your neighbor, this also provides a great way to talk with other attendees. 

Three optional meal time community networking opportunities at the OWHE conference are the Mentorship Lunch, the Womxn of Color Caucus, and the new Queer Caucus. The Mentorship Lunch allows you to intentionally build a connection or connections that you can continue to grow after the conference. These connections can be built on whatever areas of your life you are seeking additional support. The Womxn of Color Caucus breakfast has been a favorite space to build community and we are looking forward to the addition of the Queer Caucus dinner this year so that those with these marginalized identities can have space to deliberately connect. 

Remember: Ask for and hand out your business cards if you would like to continue on with a conversation after the conference. 

​​2. Be fully present 

Conferences are busy; there are opportunities for formal and informal networking, conference sessions competing for your attention, and the background noise of what is awaiting the week ahead at work. It is easy to find yourself stretched too thin. In moments you begin to feel overwhelmed or uncertain about what session(s) to attend, revisit your conference intentions and make a decision based on what will help you achieve your goal. 

If the flurry of conference activities gets too much or you find yourself overwhelmed, there is a designated quiet room. You may also find taking 5 to 10 minutes walking around the forested resort grounds restorative. For a longer walk, the Oregon Coast is a short drive away!

​​3. Reflect after each presentation

All presenters cover a lot of material within their allotted time. In order to remember the key points, shared thoughts, or strategies shared, take some time immediately between sessions to write a reflection paragraph on what you learned. This makes recalling what you appreciated about each session easier.  

Post-conference 

​​1. Post-conference plan

The conference is over. You are back at your desk, reflecting on a great weekend! Use some time during the week after the conference to reach out to attendees you met through email or LinkedIn. 

I find I return to work more energized and full of ideas after conferences. I like to use the next two weeks post conference to share strategies, tips, and tools I learned during the conference. 

Written by Sara Spiers, Research Program Coordinato​r and OWHE Education Committee Member, with support from the OWHE Board.

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