Attending the 2012 SLA Annual Conference was a whirlwind experience. It was my first conference, so it’s difficult to say what my expectations were exactly, but I’m sure whatever expectations I had were exceeded! It all began way back in February, when I applied for an Early Career Conference Award (ECCA). Fast forward to mid-July, and I’m boarding a flight to Chicago!
I find it difficult to put the ECCA experience into words. Everything was big and new and exciting, and being dropped into a different country – so familiar, yet so different – made it all the more surreal! I’m sure I was walking around with a permanent deer-in-headlights expression through the whole conference. I’m grateful to my mentor, Penny, who beforehand was always just an email away, and happy to introduce me to people at the conference.
My award was co-sponsored by the Business & Finance Division, and the events I attended were a mixture of those run by this division, such as the Annual Business Meeting Breakfast, and more general sessions applicable to many areas. It was a great learning experience, even if the content was sometimes a little over my head, or if I didn’t necessarily agree.
I particularly enjoyed Mary Ellen Bates’ session on marketing for introverts – which was standing room only by the end – and the popular 60 Sites in 60 Seconds, with John DiGilio and Gayle Lynn-Nelson, and 60 Apps in 60 Seconds, with Scott Brown and Joe Murphy.
Being not only my first conference but also my first trip to the US, I was excited to experience life across the pond, including a trip to the baseball – Go Cubs!
The networking opportunities available at SLA 2012 were a big part of why I decided to apply for the ECCA. It’s something of which I’ve had limited experience, but recognise the importance of in this profession.
Networking is something which had just seemed a necessity to me, rather than something that can actually be enjoyable. But networking at SLA Chicago was, well, a lot of fun! I can really see now that networking is about building meaningful relationships. The Fellows & First-Timers Meet was a great introduction to this, and as the conference went on I tried to develop my confidence in initiating conversations.
Connecting and Engaging
I was hugely impressed with how connected SLA 2012 was. Tweeting about the conference started way ahead of its actual start. Throughout the four days there was a buzz on Twitter, with @SLAChicago retweeting anyone using the hashtag #SLAChicago, making it easy to follow what was going on in other sessions.
There was even a Social Media Lounge for those without access to a smartphone, or, like myself, those who don’t know how to use their smartphone.
In preparation for the conference, I read countless blog posts and tweets with various snippets of advice. I think I was subject to information overload before I left! But the most useful tips I would say are:
- Print up some business cards. And bring along more than you think you’ll need! I found swapping cards a little odd at first, but by the end of the conference it became natural, and so much easier than scribbling your details on a scrap of paper.
- Don’t be afraid to leave a session. This was another cultural difference that didn’t sit well at first with my British sensibilities, but I forced myself to do it, and it felt great! There was only one session I left where it was a problem, and everyone was suitably shocked and appalled when they heard this!
- Wear comfortable shoes. And layers. Americans love their air-con, and for good reason – it was around 100F in Chicago, but could still get chilly in the centre.
If you are thinking of applying for a conference award or bursary like this, just do it – you have nothing to lose! I had such an amazing time, I am so glad I applied for an ECCA.
I’ve come back from SLA 2012 full of enthusiasm and excitement, both for what I learnt there, but also for this profession. I’d like to thank SLA Europe and the Business & Finance Division for such a wonderful experience, and I really appreciate their confidence in me. SLA is an association with a real mix of members with varied backgrounds, and one of which I am glad to be a part and will definitely be becoming more involved.