Each year I look forward to attending the national conference of NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals). It’s the place where all of us organizing nerds come together to geek out on color coding, folding techniques, the latest organizing products and industry trends.
We just get each other. What a beautiful feeling.
Between the cost of the conference itself, airfare, ground transportation and dinners, attending a professional conference can be a pricey investment. I, for one, believe that the experience, education and networking opportunities that you receive are well worth it.
Make sure that you are getting the most out of your professional conference by taking in all that the experience has to offer. Here are a few things to consider.
Get Out & Experience the City
Before arriving for conference, I wasn’t sure if I had ever been to Fort Worth, Texas before and I certainly didn’t know what the city had to offer. A quick search unearthed many fun (and different) activities. My organizing buddies and I arrived one day before the official conference began and we stayed a half day after it ended.
To start off the trip, Holly and I traveled 12 minutes from the hotel to see Lanterns in the Garden at Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. Our stroll through the sprawling Garden revealed bushels of fresh flowers, blooming trees, lit up lanterns and learning nature trails. We learned, laughed and took plenty of selfies.
To end the trip, Anita, Holly and I took a ride share service to the Fort Worth Stock Yards. We made sure to arrive to the neighborhood in plenty of time to get a front row space to watch the extremely brief 4:00pm cattle drive. Somehow we managed to follow that up with walking, shopping, a drink at a sidewalk cafe and a picture atop a one-and-only Texas longhorn all before we headed to the airport to go our separate ways.
Take advantage of whichever city you find yourself in. Surely there are many fun adventures to be had if you just get out and explore!
Sit in the Front of the Class
Call me a nerd, but I like to sit in the front row. There are a bunch of logical reasons to do so. My favorite benefit of sitting in the front couple of rows is that I can get great pictures.
Oftentimes a slide will be presented, covered and then passed by quickly. Using a program like Evernote allows me to take pictures of the slides with the juiciest details. I can even get nice photos of the presenters themselves which I will often post on social media or email directly to the presenter.
The other reason I like to sit up front is because I find it much easier to pay attention to the discussion. In the back of the room, I tend to get distracted by noticing friends, seeing a lady playing with her hair, realizing I can’t see the words on the screen or the hundreds of other things that can grab my attention.
I encourage you to try this, particularly if you know that you get easily distracted or have ADHD. Maintaining focus is less of a struggle when you are front and center.
Take Detailed Notes
The typical conference is jam packed with content, networking opportunities and product suggestions. You only have a few days to absorb all of this information and that can be an overwhelming feeling. I have found, though, that if you take detailed notes and review them after you get home, your chances of retaining the benefits of a conference greatly increase.
The format that you use to take notes really depends on your personal style. I like to use my tablet, but as you can see in the picture above, my colleague uses her iPad with keyboard in addition to a notebook with pen. If you have hard to read handwriting or suffer from arthritis, hand writing your notes may not be the best option. If you’ve never used a tablet or type slowly, don’t try to force yourself to go digital. The best option is the option you are most comfortable with.
Evernote is my go-to for taking notes. I use it for tracking the details of meetings, conferences, classes and conference calls. One of the reasons I love to use it is because I am able to rearrange my notes, highlight and bold words and take pictures of detailed slides. Sometimes there is a slide jam packed with good information on it. With Evernote, I can simply take a picture of that slide and just focus on what the presenter is saying rather than scribbling everything down. Plus, the image falls right in line with my typed notes!
At the end of our conference, we are asked to provide our feedback on the presenters, the class content and the entire conference itself. That’s a lot of extra information to remember! That’s why at the bottom of my individual session notes, I will add a section for my speaker feedback. I add to it as something comes to my mind, right there during the presentation. I also have a separate note for overall conference feedback. This is the only way I have found to keep track of it all. After all, I want my input taken into consideration for the next year’s event!
Get Closer to Your Local Cohorts
Your association, like NAPO, may have local chapters. If you are a member of your local chapter, you probably know a few attendees from your area. The national conference is a nice time to get to know each other on a deeper level and that’s just what I do with my NAPO Chicago colleagues.
This is a time when attendees are free of family obligations and may have the time to connect with you on a different level. You may just find out that you share a favorite restaurant or that your kids are the same age. Take the time to talk, laugh and learn together. Try to branch out from your local cohorts at some point though and reconnect with some people who you likely only see once a year.
Reconnect with Old Friends & Make New Ones
Each year when I travel to a new location to connect with Professional Organizers from all over the country and world, I look forward to seeing the few special faces. These are those people who I have talked to on the phone throughout the year, tweeted messages to of congratulations and shared business referrals with.
This is our chance to look each other in the eyes, share a big hug and maybe even a table at a conference session. We commiserate over clients who sometimes drive us crazy and share our most recent successes. It’s nice to know that despite the miles, we have so many things in common. I also get a brilliant idea from them here and there!
There are also a plethora of opportunities to meet some new folks too! Step out of your comfort zone and join a group of people who you’ve never met before. Sit at their dinner table or walk right up and introduce yourself. Your new best friend could be standing right there!
Talk to the National Big Wigs
Attending your association’s national conference affords you the unique opportunity to mingle with the folks at the top. Likely, you may only get a chance to see these movers and shakers one time each year, so take advantage of this moment.
Share with them your brilliant ideas on how to move the organization forward or things that you have noticed could be improved. If there is someone in particular who you would like to meet, figure out if they had a recent success (like a new volunteer role) or read one of their latest blog posts. These are great topics to bring up in order to introduce yourself.
For the 2019-2020 term, I was lucky enough to have been elected to the NAPO Chicago Board of Directors as their new Vice President. Because of this new role, I had the opportunity to attend the National and Chapter Leadership Forums at NAPO2019. All of the big wigs are right there in one room. Talk about some powerful energy! Volunteer in order to see big rewards in your career.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
If you’re lucky, there is so much juicy information to absorb at a professional conference. Take advantage of this opportunity to gain some valuable industry insights but don’t forget to have a little fun too.
While they may be serving adult beverages at your conference during a reception or party, beware of overserving yourself. There is nothing worse than waking up in the morning to realize that you embarrassed yourself the night before but still need to face the crowd.
Life is short. Don’t be afraid to be silly and let loose (in the right environment, of course).