Navigating a Conference Alone

I am currently traveling back from the National Collegiate Honors Council 2016 conference (#NCHC16) in Seattle, Washington. I attended this conference as the only representative from my institution, and I only knew one person out of the 1,900 attendees. This was a challenging experience for me, but I learned a lot. I did a few things right, but I also realized that there were a lot of things I could do differently in order to get more out of the experience.

1. Connect with people you don't know

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I recommend connecting with people you do know to start, if possible. The person I knew came with a delegation from her current institution and I was able to connect with them and continue to grow my network. She was extremely generous to invite me to dinner and I appreciated that time to connect further. This was a good step before venturing out to talk to people I didn’t know at all.

2. Enjoy the quiet time

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I am an ambivert (mix between extrovert and introvert), but I felt like a huge introvert throughout this conference experience. Traveling across the country was extremely tiring, so I took time to enjoy the quiet time. I spent time watching TV in my hotel room, went to bed earlier than usual, and enjoyed meals alone. I had a lot of time to think and relax from a busy first two months of school.

3. Attend regional or committee meetings

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Attend regional or committee meetings in order to connect with a smaller like-minded group. I attended my regional meeting and got to hear updates from the upcoming regional conference and other business going on in my area. I hope to also get involved in a committee next year so I can focus on my functional area within honors (primarily advising).

4. Explore the city

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Something I need to work on is going to explore the city on my own. I would be so tired by the end of a 10-hour conference day that I didn’t feel up to walking around and seeing the city. I plan to give myself more brain breaks during the middle of the day at future conferences so I don’t feel burned out by the end of the day. This will give me time to explore a new city!

5. Shed the guilt

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I felt guilty because I wasn’t exploring as much as I would’ve liked. I felt like I wasn’t taking advantage of being in a new place. However, I realized later that this is what I needed at the time and I was listening to my mind and body when making these decisions. So, I recommend trying to shed the guilt and do what you need in the moment.

6. Share ideas in sessions

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Finally, I started to share ideas in sessions towards the end of the conference. I wish I had done this more earlier so I want to work on putting myself out there. I know I have a lot of great ideas to share from my own experience that would have enriched other presentations I attended. In the future I plan to work on overcoming my lasck of self-confidence to share my thoughts.

I also plan to submit a presentation proposal for next year so I will be even more engaged at #NCHC17! Have you ever attended a professional conference alone? How did you manage it? Share your tips in the comments below or tweet @jshap722.

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