In just two short weeks, many of us will be saying goodbye to our significant other, children and dogs and travel to the nearest airport with one destination in mind…Denver NACAC 2012.
For some, this week is a chance to get out of the office, reconnect with old friends, make new ones and provide a learning opportunity for ourselves, our staff and colleagues. For me, the volunteering, learning, networking and educating gives me a sense of renewal. This fall will be my seventh year at the NACAC Conference so I thought I would share some tips for the newbies out there and also some items to consider for those of you more seasoned than me.
1. Attend Sessions
I know some of you are thinking “well, that’s obvious”, but there are all kinds of activities going on at NACAC to pull you from sessions. Make sure you attend those you are interested in and take notes! You may even want to attend a session and take home notes for the colleague of yours that stayed behind to cover the office. This is also a great way to learn about institutions different than yours. Are you working at a small, private college? Go to a session being done by a large, state institution and see what new information you can take back to campus.
2. Visit the Exhibit Hall
I can never believe the number of people I talk to who say, “I never go in there”. Trust me people, it’s not as scary as you think! I have learned so much over the years by setting aside an hour or two each conference to walk through the hall. In my early years, I would find a Director or VP, I looked up to and ask them if I could walk with them and learn from their questions. When I became a director, I walked my staff through the hall knowing that someday they would be running an office and I wanted them to have the tools and knowledge they needed to make the correct decisions in hiring out and deciding what to internally.
In addition, NACAC is a nice time to meet with companies that you may not normally have time to meet with during your busy schedule in the office. It is one stop shopping and you can also learn a great deal about who is coming out with what over the next year. Who knows when the conversation may lead to a new idea you have been thinking of or even a FREE beta test on a new product.
Remember, exhibitors are people too. At NACAC, many have a great deal of admissions experience so don’t let the networking stop once you enter the hall doors.
3. Participate in New Social Events
If you have been attending NACAC for many years, you may find yourself always going to the same events in the evening or hanging with the same people you know. Try to attend at least one new event each conference to get to know a new organization or meet colleagues you don’t already know.
When I say new, that also assumes that you participate to begin with. Not all of us are social butterflies and many attending have a great deal of responsibilities back at home but while you are at the conference, be there and take advantage of anything other than sitting in your room!
My final tip for participating in social events is to make sure your staff and first time attendees are also up to speed on your expectations. Be specific! Tell them exactly what you feel is mandatory and what is not. Also, coach them on networking, your clear expectations on alcohol and how should they dress. They most likely get this coaching back in the office, but NACAC is an entirely different animal for some.
4. Attend your state and affiliate meeting.
The majority of state and affiliate organizations meet during the NACAC conference. Attend this meeting to network regionally and to stay up to date on what is being discussed during the NACAC meetings and Assembly at the conference. This is also a good way to show some initial interest in being involved at the state and regional level.
5. Network, Network, Network!
There are thousands of people at the conference all working in the same area, you are going to learn a great deal just from talking to each other during the week but remember to keep in touch once you get home too. Collect business cards and pass them out freely to anyone you would like to stay in touch with. The one thing I’m sure of after working with my current list of clients is that so many institutions face the same issues, let’s all communicate and work together!
I know you have heard this before, but it’s true. The best time to find a new job is when you aren’t looking. You may be completely happy with your current role but as someone who has gotten two big breaks in my career during the conference when I wasn’t looking, make sure you come with plenty of business cards and some thoughts about where you want your career to go.
6. Wear comfortable shoes and a bring sweater or a jacket.
Yes, I know I’m not your mother but a great deal of walking is involved during this event so break out your most comfortable but professional looking shoes and you’ll be more likely to make it to all of the events you wish to attend. Also, the temperature can vary greatly in the fall so make sure and pack a sweater or light jacket for layering. You will see all kinds of dress at the conference. I suggest business casual unless your supervisor or event involvement requires something different.
7. Host a counselor event.
Use this opportunity to host a counselor breakfast, coffee or lunch in the host city. This is a great opportunity to reach out to the many counselors who will be attending and offer to share information over a meal. If you are exploring a new market, this can be the perfect opportunity to start educating the high school counselors in the area on all that your institution can offer.
During the New Orleans NACAC Conference, my former office at a small, private university partnered with the large, public institution down the road that we competed with for local students. We made an effort to reach out to counselors in markets we were both trying to grow enrollments from and asked them to join us for lunch. The event was a success with counselors learning about two institutions that were very
different but also in the same region. The end results included invitations to new college fairs in exploratory regions and referrals to students who weren’t originally considering our institutions. The regional admission directors who attended also got to know new colleagues that they could share ideas with as the year went on.
Most importantly, remember that you are attending the conference because someone in your office thought you were worth spending time, money and resources on as you continue to develop in this profession. Thank them when you get home and share with them a few items that you learned!