Take a look at the program, decide what sessions you want to attend, and think about your goals for the conference. Whether you’re eager to network with a certain subset of people, gain knowledge in a new area, or conduct vendor research, setting out your goals ahead of time will help you create a general plan of action for the conference.
2. Don’t let work distract you.
From October 18-21, your work should be attending EDUCAUSE: going to sessions, networking, and sharing knowledge. Don’t let yourself get so sucked into email and other work responsibilities that you miss the opportunity to learn from others and immerse yourself in the EDUCAUSE experience. Instead, give yourself “assignments” during the conference: consider writing a short summary every night, including lessons learned, action items for once you get home, and any ideas or contacts you want to follow up on. Reflecting and organizing your thoughts for just a few minutes before bed each evening can bring your conference productivity to a whole new level.
3. Put yourself out there.
This one might sound obvious – after all, what are conferences for if not networking – but it can be easy to fall into the pattern of sticking with your colleagues or existing contacts. Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to create new relationships. Spur of the moment chats after sessions or during downtime can be the most productive part of the experience. If you are attending EDUCAUSE with colleagues, make an effort to attend different sessions to bring maximum benefit to your institution once you’re back home.
4. Visit vendors.
The opening reception, as well as daily morning and afternoon breaks, will take place in the Exhibit Hall. Touch base with any vendors your institution currently uses, and make a goal to check out at least one or two new vendors that interest you. EDUCAUSE can be a great opportunity to nurture existing vendor relationships or begin new ones. Even if you’re not in the market for new services, checking out vendors can help give you a better sense of the services and technology that other institutions are leveraging.
5. Attend all different types of sessions.
Does a session sound really interesting — but not very relevant to your job? Attend anyway. Sessions that don’t seem directly applicable may actually end up being the most productive. You’ll gain insight into a new area or issue and be able to offer an outsider’s perspective. The less at home you feel in a session, the more you’ll pay attention — and the more you’ll learn. Be sure to ask questions too. You’re at the conference to learn, so don’t worry if your inquiry seems “basic” — there are no stupid questions!
6. Make a business card plan.
Decide ahead of time your strategy for exchanging contact info with other attendees. Whether you’re into old-fashioned business cards, or want to use a virtual business card service like Bump or Hashable, make sure that your system is reliable and easy to implement. After all, networking is one of the largest benefits of the conference — you don’t want to be stuck scribbling your email address on a sheet of paper your new acquaintance will almost undoubtedly throw out (whether by accident or on purpose!).
7. Don’t try to do everything.
Pick a reasonable number of activities, and be sure to allow time for wandering around, grabbing a bite to eat or a drink with new contacts, and relaxing. Be strategic with your time, and don’t overbook. Focus on a few key topics. If you try to stretch yourself in all directions, you’ll just end up frustrated and tired.
8. Enjoy Philadelphia!
Hey, EDUCAUSE is a “vacation” too! Check out our list of the Top 10 Walkable Destinations from Educause 2011 for cultural excursions, bars, and restaurants. Just a few trips outside the Convention Center will help you come back to the conference with fresh eyes and renewed vigor.
9. Join an EDUCAUSE Constituency Group.
Joining a Constituency Group, or CG, will allow you to interface with colleagues dealing with similar challenges, learn from their mistakes, and share your own experience. Most CGs interact online on listservs during the year and meet up at EDUCAUSE to discuss pressing issues. Click here for a list of EDUCAUSE CGs.
10. Set aside time to reflect and share knowledge after the conference.
Create an action plan and list out any projects that you’ve committed to or envisioned during the conference. Share notes with colleagues, offer to give a presentation to your department, and set aside time to go through your notes and brainstorm possible uses for the new knowledge and information you’ve received.