Maintaining the “Conference High”
In a past life, I worked part-time as a youth minister for a Catholic parish. One of my duties was working with other area youth ministers to provide retreats for area high school students. The most challenging part of that work was not the retreat itself, but it was finding a way to help the young men and women sustain the energy after the retreat was over. The retreat itself provided a safe space for introspection and vulnerability. Inevitably for many, however, the first day back at school began a struggle to integrate their retreat experience with their daily lives. Behind the scenes, my colleagues and I referred to this as the “retreat high”.
I have found a similar experience for myself and colleagues with our involvement in our professional conferences. We get energized by each other and the stories we share. We commiserate about our challenges and struggles and connect with kindred spirits. We get a chance to see outstanding examples of our theory in practice. We leave the conference city renewed and hopeful for incorporating the resources we gathered into our own campus lives. We come home with the conference “high”.
And then we get back to work.
We find a stack of paperwork that needs to be signed. We find the e-mails that we read but said we’d get back to still waiting for us. We find colleagues who listen to us talk about what we learned and then spend as much time telling us why that won’t work at our institution. We get distracted by our day-to-day duties and the conference booklets get put onto our shelves (if they make it out of our conference bags, that is).
Of course I’m over-exaggerating a tad. Many of us do find ways to keep the energy going, but it can be a challenged to return to our campuses following a conference, especially if many of our colleagues do not share in our appreciation for that type of professional development. Below are just a handful of tips that come to mind for ways to extend at least some parts of that conference “high”
Pay it Forward – some of us are required to do presentations or create some kind of report to share the information we gained at a conference (if no other reason to prove we didn’t spend the entire time sightseeing or playing golf). But for those of us who are not required to do presentations, find ways to share the information. If your campus has a professional development day of some sort, volunteer to do a presentation. Ask your department head if she or he would like you to share some information at a future meeting. Invite some colleagues to have a brown-bag lunch discussion over some of the materials you gathered. When I’m at a conference, if I don’t find a session that’s directly connected to my own responsibilities, I’ll look for one that is relevant for a colleague’s area and attend. There have been times where I found the information so interesting; I actually e-mailed the colleague from the session to let them know I was bringing back material for them. One caveat, be mindful not to be overbearing about how you share the information with colleagues. If not shared in more of a “FYI” type of way, some might be put-off or even resentful that you’re trying to tell them how to do their job.
Schedule time with Yourself – we are a profession that values reflection, it makes sense that we should model that behavior in our post-conference behavior. Within a week following your return, block off time in your calendar, close your door, and sift through your materials. Take some notes, extend your thinking about the sessions, and let it marinate.
Follow Up – After you’ve had time to return to the conference materials, follow-up with presenters of sessions you were really interested in. I feel like I just got asked to the prom any time someone e-mails and asks me for more information from a session I presented on. Also, e-mail the presenters of sessions you weren’t able to attend. Even if they uploaded their powerpoint slides, its possible (we hope) that the slides don’t tell the entire story. The added bonus is that it is yet another way to build your own professional network.
Take the Business Cards out of your Coat Pocket – I’m notoriously guilty of not connecting like I should with people who have exchanged business cards with me. I’m ashamed to admit that, on more than one occasion, the first time I took out someone’s card was when I was getting my usual conference bag ready for the next one. At the NASPA II conference, I decided to be more intentional about my approach to business card collecting. When someone handed me a card following a conversation, I took out a pen and wrote a few notes on the back of it to remind me of the key points of our conversation, that way the e-mail isn’t a reintroduction but rather a continuation of the previous conversation.
Get Social – I was very excited to see some colleagues who I introduced to twitter during last year’s conference actually using it this year. A few were still doubtful, however, whether they would use twitter outside of the conference. I encourages them to start with the backchannel, look at the profiles of folks who also tweeted during the conference, and start off following professional with similar interests (side tip, one reason why it’s important to have more than “I like cats” in your profile if you plan to use it as a part of your professional development). It’s yet another way to cultivate relationships with professionals outside of the conference. May of the colleagues I’m closest with I connected with (and continue to do so) through social media.
By no means, is this an exhaustive list, but more a prompt to see what tips other pro’s might have. How do you keep up the “conference high”? What do you do to keep the energy sustaining throughout the year?
This post comes from Region 2 Communications Team Leader and Blog facilitator, Christopher Conzen