How to prepare for conferences and training

This week, we’ll announce the Shorthorn staffers who will represent the staff during the 2014 College Media Association’s national convention in Philadelphia. But first …

(L-R) Mark Bauer, Monica Nagy, Andrew Plock and Beth Francesco (back) and John Harden, along with Taylor Cammack (not shown) take in the sights in Kentucky in 2010.

(L-R) Mark Bauer, Monica Nagy, Andrew Plock and Beth Francesco (back) and John Harden, along with Taylor Cammack (not shown) take in the sights in Kentucky in 2010.

Being a student journalist comes with some pretty sweet perks: Plenty of real-world practice, the best equipment, friends with similar interests … and tons of free pizza. One perk not to miss out on is attending conferences and training. State, regional and national conferences can be great for developing your skills and networking — and can come with a hefty price tag (registration, travel arrangements and food). Here are 10 ways to make the most of your (or your news organization’s) investment. These also apply to making the most of your time with the professionals who visit The Shorthorn newsroom.

Pre-conference

  • Check out the program at least a week before you head out. In addition to highlighting the sessions or workshops you want to check out, find and follow each of the speakers on Twitter. They may post their presentations or handouts if you miss their sessions.
  • Get in touch with presenters you have specific questions for. Most conference organizers offer downtime between sessions or during receptions for face-to-face contact. Take advantage by setting up some meetings before you arrive.

    (L-R) Dustin Dangli, Beth Francesco, Bryan Bastible, Jason Boyd, Mark Bauer, Sarah Lutz, Andrew Buckley, Johnathan Silver, Shawn Johnson, Laura Sliva and Lloyd Goodman (back), Joan Khalaf and Marissa Hall show off their award in Austin, Texas.

    (L-R) Dustin Dangli, Beth Francesco, Bryan Bastible, Jason Boyd, Mark Bauer, Sarah Lutz, Andrew Buckley, Johnathan Silver, Shawn Johnson, Laura Sliva and Lloyd Goodman (back), Joan Khalaf and Marissa Hall show off their award in Austin, Texas.

  • Pack smart: Dress professionally during the day, even if it’s not your style. First impressions count. Some necessities: a nice jacket, ties, dresses, closed-toed shoes, etc. Power cords, mobile charging stations, and the like are important. Charge your electronics before the conference starts and overnight while you are there. Outlets can be spare, and you don’t really want to be a wall-hugger.

During

  • Attend a mix of sessions: 1/3 that apply to your current job; 1/3 that apply to ethics, law and other value-driven skills; and 1/3 on topics completely foreign to you. Expose yourself to topics that will stretch your abilities — and that you can bring back to share with your colleagues who could not attend.
  • Talk to strangers. (Mom will forgive you.) You never know if the person sitting next to you is the head of CNN, the editor of the student newspaper that produced a killer multimedia story, or an adviser ready to offer you a scholarship. Talk to strangers.
  • Hand out business cards as though you have an infinite supply. Every connection is an opportunity.
(L-R) Casey Holder, Bianca Montes and Natalie Webster take the train from the airport to downtown Chicago for the CMA Chicago conference in 2012.

(L-R) Casey Holder, Bianca Montes and Natalie Webster take the train from the airport to downtown Chicago for the CMA Chicago conference in 2012.

  • Say yes to adventures: Does that editor want to grab coffee between sessions? Say yes. Internship coordinator want to take you to the company dinner? Say yes. Don’t be afraid to ditch the crew you came to the conference with: You work with them each day. Just talk to your adviser before you head off. And avoid “clumping,” the act of attending sessions your crew is attending. Be different!
  • Take good notes. They’ll trigger your action plan once you get back to the office. Better yet: Tweet your notes with the hashtag — you’ll gain notoriety for being in the know.

 

After

  • Take time to think before diving back into work: What were your big takeaways? What action steps can you devise to bring the convention home? The Shorthorn requires delegates to share what they’ve learned in written reports or presentations during staff meetings.

    Just for fun: Beth Francesco, Erica Bryant and Ty Allison take advantage of their free time during the CMA Orlando conference in 2002.

    Just for fun: Beth Francesco, Erica Bryant and Ty Allison take advantage of their free time during the CMA Orlando conference in 2002.

  • Stay in touch: Networking doesn’t stop when a convention is over. Stay in touch with the people you met. And keep in mind: Professionalism is a 24-7 requirement. If you left a good impression on an internship coordinator, don’t blow it with a simple Tweet.

For those of you who have represented The Shorthorn at local, regional or national conferences (or attended with another school), what advice do you have to offer?

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