AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

Oct/17

7

Top Tips for First Time Conference Attendees by Sheila B Robinson

Happy Fall! I’m Sheila B Robinson, aea365’s Lead Curator and sometimes Saturday contributor with some Hot Tips for first-time conference attendees at #Eval17 in Washington, DC.

Hot Tips: Here’s what I’ve learned both from my own experience and from many others.

  1. Build your agenda before the conference. There are hundreds of sessions, and no, you cannot attend them all! Use the online conference program to help plan your agenda. Try to attend a variety of session types sponsored by different TIGs.
  2. Leave your day job behind. This is your time for learning, networking, and having fun! Set up those “out of office” messages and try to give the conference experience your full attention to get the most out of it.
  3. Masquerade as an extrovert, even if you’re not. I traveled to my first AEA conference alone and didn’t know anyone there. I met my first AEA friend by recognizing the name on her name tag as someone who had authored an aea365 post I enjoyed, so I approached her and told her as much. We ended up talking, attending sessions together, and even having dinner. And regarding those “BIG NAMES” in evaluation, approach them too! After years of attending the conference, I’ve just about met all of them. Guess what? I’ve found them all to be genuinely nice people willing to chat for a few moments, sign books, and pose for pictures.
  4. Attend the Networking Events
    • First Time Attendee Rapid-Fire Orientation
    • Poster Exhibit & Meet the Authors Reception
    • Awards Luncheon (ticketed event- additional charge)
    • Silent Auction to Benefit Traveling Presenters

OK, #4 is probably more a continuation of Tip #3 but also important enough to warrant its own number. These sessions are fabulous networking opportunities. It’s easy to strike up conversations with poster presenters, the people who gather with you at a poster of interest, book authors sitting at their tables, and people shopping and mingling at the silent auction. You automatically have something in common with people when you’re in the same place at the same time. Why not let that be your icebreaker? Oh, and here’s another one. Go to breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Yes, really. So many people travel to this conference on their own that typically, the restaurants start asking people with the tell-tale red name tag and interest ribbons if they wouldn’t mind sharing tables. I’ve met some of the coolest people this way!

Get Involved: While there will be hundreds of high quality sessions and fabulous learning opportunities at Evaluation 2017, it’s meeting fellow conference-goers that makes the biggest difference to me. It’s how the learning extends far beyond the conference, and for me, the most joyful part of the experience. I hope this becomes true for you as well. Safe travels!

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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