Sometimes learning is messy. Sometimes you engage in an experience that was valuable and important and guiding, but it does not fall in pretty, little themes. I have not attended many one day conferences, and the NASPA Region IV-E Drive-In on June 17th was my first WISA one day event. It was an intense day, especially for this introvert, but well worth the drive. It was a conference filled with old friends, new connections, and a wicked slice of Buckeye Pie. It was empowering to be surrounded by so many women who had something to learn and something to share.
WISA was about challenging these women to be more, with the confidence that each participant could. But this wasn’t just a rallying cry of “Yes, you can!” This was a, “Yes, you can, and here is how you do it.” This was truly a conference where you wanted to attend every session. Thankfully, I heard bits and pieces that others learned throughout the day. What I offer here are some overall lessons from the WISA Drive-In.
1. Know your value. This was an echoing theme through several sessions and speakers, but it bears repeating. Know what you are worth, both in terms of skills and salary, to your organization. Research what others are earning and doing across other campuses and similar positions. Be armed with the data, and above all else, ask for what you deserve. Don’t wait around for someone else to find time to recognize your contributions. Be your best advocate, and find others who can speak to your awesomeness.
2. Sit with people you don’t know. Conferences can be great opportunities for mini-reunions. Catching up with old friends is a wonderful benefit of conferences, but take the time to meet new people. When there is a meal, sit at a table with strangers. At the sessions, sit next to someone new and get to know her. Ask for a business card. Ask about her role on campus. Ask if she has found the nearest Starbucks. I want to thank the wonderful women at my lunch table from Roosevelt University and Ohio State for sharing about their campuses and the sessions they attended that morning. If you are not meeting new people at a conference, then you have missed the networking part of the whole event.
3. Get connected. In addition to connecting with people at the conference, take advantage of the connections you can create before, during, and after the conference. Follow the conference hashtag on twitter leading up to the event and learn who is attending the conference. Make a list of the people you want to reach out to at the conference. Deb Schmidt-Rogers and I played “who haven’t you met yet” before lunch began. Give the brevity of the conference, we were both eager to make sure we didn’t miss some Twitter connections we wanted to make in real life. During the conference, take advantage of learning from the other sessions through the conference backchannel. And following the conference, make sure to solidify some of those connections through LinkedIn, or email notes, or actual handwritten hellos.
4. Share what you know. Conferences are a great way to share what you are learning on your campus. The smaller conferences can be a great way to present, without feeling overwhelmed by the size of the event. Share your talents by getting involved in the planning or organizing of events or conferences. Huge kudos to Jenesha Penn and Krissie Tomlinson and the many other volunteers that made the WISA Drive-In happen. I was also fortunate enough to experience Jeni’s Ice Cream in town (thank you, @KARupert), and I learned so many interesting details about the Ohio Union (thank you, @awagner761). Because Kristen and Adam shared part of their campus with me, I had a much more memorable experience.
5. Be there. Even smaller conferences like the WISA Drive-In require time away from the office, time away from family, time away from being an introvert (Ok, that last one is just me). Even though I hate taking time away from my family, I choose to make the time count. Anything less is not fair to you or the people whose time you are sacrificing. If you make an investment in attending a conference for professional development, make it worth your while. Meet people. Learn. Share.
Many of the lessons I have shared could be said about any conference, but I want to challenge you to make sure that you are sharing these lessons with other women in your lives. How are you encouraging them to educate themselves on their value? How are you pushing them to engage with people who can help them advance? How are you helping those women to make the most of their experiences? If we take an “Each One, Teach One” approach with what we learn at a conference, then we can move more women from the perimeters to a seat at the table.