Saturday 16 February 2013

Be Different. Be Bold. Be Brave (A first timer’s conference visit)

They say conferences are what you make them; being a first timer I wanted to make NLS6 as productive and as positive as possible. Like many of us out there, libraries are my second career and the one that finally ‘fits’. One of the greatest things about NLS6 was the fact that I fit in. No longer am I the only ‘odd’ one in the room. While my family call me a nerd, I relished being a room with 500 other nerds wearing the label with pride. I’ve been told that NLS isn’t like other library conferences, and I hope that’s wrong. So when going to a conference for the first time what should you do, bring and say? I’ll try and keep this short and simple. 

Go to as many events and conference sessions as you can manage. That said, if there is nothing that interests you or if you’d rather some down time take it. I found by the third day I was so overwhelmed with information and twitter (which I’ll come to in a moment) that I needed to sit alone in quiet. So I chose to miss the first session of that day so that I could get a coffee and drink it in peace in Brisbane’s botanic gardens – it was bliss!! There are always evening social events, if you’re unfamiliar with the area go with someone else so that if you get lost, you won’t get lost alone! But try to go to as many as you can. The social events had some of the most interest discussions and you don’t know who you’ll meet.

Get Twitter. I cannot stress this enough. I wasn’t a Twitter user until a week ago. I had an account but never used it. Over the three days at NLS6 I learnt how to use it, I found dozens of followers and I started tweeting like crazy (PS find me @Bo0k1sH). The Twitter feeds also kept me up to date with other sessions that ran concurrently. As well as joining twitter I recommend using a dashboard application such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. This will help you keep track of the feeds coming out of the conference. If you don’t feel comfortable tweeting straight away just read the feeds and retweet what other clever people say (that’s what it’s for). Look and the people who are tweeting the most and follow them, they’re generally the ones that are active outside of the conferences and are handy connections to have.

Talk to everyone that you meet. Now is not the time to be a wallflower. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to strangers, see if there are other people you know already attending and use them to meet new people but remember meeting new people is important. The library world is tiny and you never know when those people you met at a random conference may be helpful. Remember to talk to the conference presenters. Generally they want to be spoken to about their papers, projects and even themselves. Ask them that burning question you have, librarian’s love to share information so don’t be shy.

Bring business cards with your full name (duh); any qualifications you have (that includes any committees that you may be part of; an email address – this does not necessarily have to be your work email address; your Twitter handle or any other social media accounts that you use regularly (for your professional profile) and if you’re comfortable with it, your mobile phone number. Bring an extension cord and a power board – it sounds silly but with everyone using smart phones and tablets there will be lots of people (including you) needing to charge their devices and it’s a great way to make new friends. Bring something to scribble notes on, I know most people will be using electronic devices but in case of emergency always have some pens and paper on hand.

Say Yes. Try this, for the length of the conference; if you are asked, invited to or offered anything say yes. It’s harder than it sounds but is totally worth it. Saying yes gives you the opportunity to try new things and ideas and of course meet new people.

Dress to impress, on your first day in particular wear something to help you stand out and be remembered. Now I’m not saying dress outrageously but standing out is a good thing. I (unintentionally) wore a lovely sunshine yellow dress to the first day of NLS6, normally  that probably wouldn’t have made me stand out but it happened to be the same colour as the logo for the conference. As a result people remembered me by that dress for the rest of the conference; I even used it as a trigger for people’s memories! Additionally, be aware of the dress code for the conference you are attending and make sure you pack to match it and the local weather.

Finally, try to add extra time to your trip, especially if you’re visiting a new city. I admit it isn’t always possible, but I do regret not being able to spend an extra day or two exploring Brisbane and its information world. If you can’t add extra time to your trip in the city you're visiting, do try and take at least an additional day off work when you get home. Trust me you’ll need it after going non-stop. Taking this day gives you the opportunity to get back into routine, catch up on sleep and process all the information you have been bombarded with during the week.

So in the words of NLS6, when going to a conference, whether it’s your first of fiftieth; be different, be bold, be brave and look out for me at the next one, I’ll be the one colour coordinating with the conference logos! Have fun 

For a look at what happened at NLS6 check out their catch ups on the website.



  1. I second everything you've said! Especially about taking time out if you need it and using Twitter to connect. Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Me too second all of this! Great that you've been able to give other first timers the benefit of that experience now through this post - it's one thing to hear it from folk who've been going to these things for years and another to get out there and do it yourself.

  3. Thanks for these fantastic tips - useful not only for first-timers, but also for more experienced conference-goers who want to get more out of the experience. I agree Twitter adds a whole other dimension to a conference (and is a great shortcut when meeting people face to face for the first time- "oh, you're @such-and-such I follow you!"), and will try the 'Say Yes' tip next time I'm at a conference.