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A Student Perspective

Conferences for Dummies

Did you miss me?!?!?!

My apologies for my two-week hiatus. Between my conference trip and Hurricane Sandy leaving my residence hall without power and residents displaced for about a week, I’ve been just a little busy…

But, I’m back and ready to tell you all about my NODA Conference experience! NODA stands for the National Orientation Directors Association. This year’s conference was held in shiny sin city—

Las Vegas, Nevada

Since this was going to be my first national conference experience as a real life PRESENTER, I was pretty nervous…Thankfully, my presentation went okay. Could have been better; could have been worse. It started off a little shaky in my opinion, but got much better as it went along. Plus, I incorporated real life undergraduate orientation leaders into it, which was a real crowd pleaser. Five Rutgers Orientation Team Leaders also attended the conference, and, as a result, were recruited to participate in my presentation on the leadership course, which they all took last spring. My presentation’s focus was on the blog assignment that I coordinated for the course and how social media can be used in orientation programs as both a teaching and training tool.

Here’s the OFFICIAL description from the program…SO FANCY!

Once I got over my nerves, I was ready to go. It was my time to contribute to the great social media discussion at a national conference….actually, let me be honest… I was really thinking: LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH! (;

The Orientation Team Leaders (Camille, Jarrett, John Geremy, & Stewart) did a fabulous job facilitating small discussion groups that analyzed various examples of blogs from the course.

About 20 people came to our presentation, which was super exciting considering that I was anticipating more like 5. Thankfully, that was not the case.

By far, the best part of my presentation experience was working with the undergraduate Orientation Team Leaders. They even told me after that they met other undergrads at the conference who had helped their “bosses” with their presentations, but who were not asked to actually participate in the presentation. I’m so thrilled that I was able to give them the experience of wearing the little ribbons on their name tags that said “presenter.” Even more so, I was so proud to see them successfully lead thought-provoking discussions during the presentation that led to an even better large group discussion about social media (specifically blogging) as a valid scholarship tool.

See the pride (and relief) on our faces post-presentation:

The rest of my conference experience was awesome. I met students and professionals from all across the US…and even some Canadians. Now that I am back and have had time to reflect, allow me to share what I learned from my experience as a conference-goer and presenter.

1) Attend special sessions/symposiums geared toward you: Many national conferences will have a graduate student or new professionals symposium that’s designed specifically for your population. At NODAC, I attended the graduate symposium, which was a full day mini conference that comprised of graduate student specific presentations, small group discussions with professionals, and networking opportunities. While I do love & appreciate my cohort, it was refreshing to talk to graduate students outside of my little Rutgers College Student Affairs bubble…no offense..

2) Make Business Cards: All the cool kids are doing it! No, but really. Business cards make you look so much more professional. And, it feels super grown up to hand someone your card. In all honesty, some type of business card is a near necessity for conference-goers. It’s the best networking tool you could invest in. I designed mine on Look out for coupons!

3) Choose your sessions wisely: Carefully study your conference program, and pick sessions that may be of value to you. I know this sounds self-explanatory, but haphazardly stumbling into random presentations can leave you with regret. Plus, I doubt you want to walk out of a presentation. That would be just rude…and awkward.

4) Talk to strangers: It’s time to erase everything your mom taught you about talking to strangers. The whole POINT of conferences is to talk to strangers. Use all opportunities to engage in conversations. This includes those awkward 7am elevator rides when all you want to do is turn around and go back to bed. Resist the urge! Drink some coffee! Initiate conversation! You never know when you could be talking to your next boss. Conference name tags and tote bags are GREAT ways to identify your fellow conference-goers. 

5) Networking is an art–handle with care: I attended one awesome presentation by Re’Shanda Grace-Bridges (University of Dayton) and Brett Bruner (Fort Hayes State University) called the “Deeper side of Networking.”  The main message I took away was that networking must be practiced with authenticity.  To just flippantly give away your business card to anyone with a pulse is not enough to say you’ve “networked.” The parameters of a networking relationship must be defined. For instance, are we just going to be conference acquaintances and share some simple conversations and pleasantries, or are we going to mutually develop our networking relationship? There’s nothing wrong with casual networking during a conference, but, if you are going to expect certain things from the people you network with, then you must talk to them about it and make sure they’re on the same page. There’s nothing worse than unrequited networking…well, maybe unrequited love. The moral is that you must DTNR: Define The Networking Relationship. 

6) Be Professional…DUHWhat happens in Vegas (during a conference does NOT) stay in Vegas. It may be sad for some, but it’s true. No matter where conferences take you (sin city or the middle of nowhere, Kansas), it’s so important to remember that your behavior (the good, the bad, the ugly) can and likely will come back to bite you.

7) Follow up: Follow up with those who you met during your conference experience. If someone asked you to send the powerpoint from your presentation, DO IT! Don’t just leave people hanging. If you participated in any mentorship programs where someone edited your resume (like I did), make sure to THANK the person. You want to nurture these connections for the future.

8) Take in the sights: If you have the extra time, get out of the stuffy conference rooms and check out the surrounding area. During my NODAC experience, I took a bus tour of the infamous Vegas Strip, as well as a tour of the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. Quite the juxtaposition…

Bright Lights

Natural Beauty

Well, I hope you found these tips helpful for your next conference experience. Feel free to comment with your own tips!

Oh, by the way…in case you were wondering, I won absolutely nothing gambling in Vegas. At least, I have self-control and only played a total of $30…I can’t say the same for this guy…


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One thought on “Conferences for Dummies

  1. Julianne on said:

    Do you have a layout for your business card? Looks so good, but I cant figure out how to create something as good on Staples.

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