This edition of Tips from a Sigma was written by Allison Swick-Duttine, National Vice President.
The last Tri Sigma Officer Academy wrapped up last weekend… can you believe it’s already time to prep for the regional fraternity/sorority conferences? As a professional fraternity/sorority advisor (and a member of the Board of Directors for one of the regional conferences, NGLA), I’d like to share some advice to our members who will attend AFLV Central or AFLV West, NGLA or SEPC in the upcoming weeks. (Editor’s Note: While these tips are framed with regards to fraternity/sorority conferences, they are also applicable to any business or professional conference you might attend as well. Good advice is good advice!)
1. Set goals before you attend. Do your research. Enter with an open mind. Why are you going to the conference? What do you hope to know by the end of the weekend that you don’t already know? Write down your goals for attending a conference before departing. This quick activity will make it easier for you to make decisions about which workshops to attend once you get there. It may also be helpful for you to take a peek at the conference website a few days before you depart. Often times the schedule of workshops (or even the program booklet) is available online. When choosing which workshops to attend, diversify to give yourself a wide range of knowledge to help your chapter or fraternity/sorority community upon your return to campus.
2. Be bold!! Or, in other words, don’t be cliquey. Ask lots of questions! While it may be less intimidating to attend a workshop with a friend, resist the urge. Your campus will get a bigger return on the money they invested to send you to the conference if the members of your delegation split up and attend different sessions. This way you will bring a lot more knowledge back to your chapter or council. (Tip: This is much easier if your delegation sits down upon arrival at the conference and decides who will go to which workshop.) Go a step further and ask questions during and after the presentations. Don’t be afraid to go up to the presenters after a session and ask questions (or just to thank them for something you learned.) Believe me, presenters appreciate when you do this! They worked hard to develop the workshop and like to hear what you learned and what questions that went unanswered.
3. Make the main thing the main thing. The point of the regional conferences is to teach you new skills and concepts to help advance the fraternity/sorority community on your campus. While it’s natural to chat with other participants from other campuses about their experiences, keep in mind that your objective is to develop a plan that will work for your college/university. The culture is quite different from campus to campus and that what works at “State U” may not work at your college. Furthermore, if you return from a regional conference and the only information that you have to share is how State U runs its Panhellenic meetings, then you probably did not get the intended conference experience.
4. Be socially excellent. Network!! Meet as many people as possible and make sure to take down their contact information. It may be helpful for you to dedicate a page in your conference program booklet solely to names, phone numbers, email addresses and the reason you may need to contact them. The best way to learn from a regional conference is to meet professionals, volunteers and peers that you can follow up with upon your return to campus. These contacts will come in handy when you are starting to apply what you learned and hit a snag. Be sure to also make contact with the Tri Sigma volunteer who is attending your regional. (NGLA: Linda Henderson and Allison Swick-Duttine, SEPC: Laura Sweet and Natalie Averette, AFLV Central: Kaye Schendel and Natalie Averette.)
5. Be practical. While you are probably already prepared for a long day of learning and meeting new people, you should also be ready for a long day of sitting and walking. Business attire is expected for the educational sessions; however, you should plan to wear comfortable clothing and shoes. It’s not worth looking great but feeling miserable because your clothes are too tight or your feet hurt! You should also plan to get lots of sleep. Research shows that you don’t retain as much information when you are sleep deprived (and there’s nothing more embarrassing than nodding off during a presentation!). Finally, tuck an empty water bottle in your bag. Most conferences have water stations in each presentation room. You’ll thank me for this tip when you see how much a bottle of Diet Coke costs in the hotel gift shop!
6. Follow up. Continue the conversation. The most critical piece of any conference is processing the information afterward with your peers and fraternity/sorority advisor. You will probably chat about what you learned on the ride back to your campus but that’s not enough. Take the initiative to schedule a meeting with your co-attendees for the week after the conference. During this meeting, you can develop a plan for how you will apply the information you learned. Make sure you collectively come out of that meeting with a list of action steps and who will be responsible for each. Be sure to contact the workshop presenters if you need more info or clarification. They will be happy to provide additional insight.
In my experience, students who get the most out of a conference go in with written or articulated expectations, engage throughout the process, and follow up with an action plan. There are rarely poor conferences, just unprepared and disengaged participants. So take an hour or so the week before attending your regional conference to get prepared to be an excellent conference attendee and let us know about your experience when you return by submitting your thoughts in the comments below. If you’d like to write a blog article for us about your experience, please contact the webmaster.