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Higher ed conference survival guide – 13 tips to make your time count

Tricia Whenham
Posted by Tricia Whenham on May 8, 2019
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There’s nothing quite like a higher education conference.

Why? Could be it’s the opportunity to hear how other institutions are tackling the same issues you are, like the rise of active learning or the need to reduce IT risk. It might be seeing the tech advancements on display every year, from companies large and small. Or maybe, it’s just the chance to step beyond your day-to-day routines to connect with other professionals who are also striving to improve the student experience.

Conferences can be equal parts overwhelming and inspiring. And they always fly by way too fast. Here are 13 tips to help make your experience at your next higher ed conference count.

1. Get the app

Before you leave home, check to see if your conference has an app. For example, if you’re heading to Chicago in the fall for EDUCAUSE, there’s usually an app available that lets you schedule meetings and message other conference attendees. Conference websites can also be very helpful when you’re dashing between sessions the website for UBTech(coming up next month in Orlando) makes it simple to sort by session type, program track and delivery format.

2. Load up your device

Unless you like to keep it old school with a paper and pen, almost everything you’ll need can fit on your tablet, phone or Chromebook™ computer. Think about installing a note-taking app, a voice recorder, Skype® (for calls home), an eBook reader (when you need to escape all the tech talk) or an expenses tracker. You’ll also want to make sure you can easily message your colleagues to coordinate lunch plans or end-of-day drinks. And whatever you do, don’t forget your spare battery pack or charging cable!

3. Cover the basics

I can’t stress it enough – wear comfortable shoes. If you’re a conference veteran, you know what I’m talking about. One time when presenting at a national conference, I went for style over substance and paid the price. Bring a second pair to change into after you get back to your hotel – your feet will thank you.

4. Stay well fed and watered

Food lines in the convention center are often long. If you’re in a rush, it’s easy to skip having a good meal in favor of the vending machine snack. And don’t forget to stay hydrated (8 glasses, everyone). Stash snacks in your bag, bring a water bottle to refill and try to get outside the convention center for meals as much as you can.

5. Crowdsource your game plan

Are you the only one from your team or department attending? Find out what everyone else wishes they could see. Maybe your teaching faculty needs fresh ideas for active learning or the rest of your IT team wants to know what other schools are doing to improve the blended learning experience. Take photos and collect links to resources you can easily share in your next team meeting.

6. Divide and conquer

Lucky enough to have a few people from your team attending? Take some time before the conference starts to decide who’s going where. That way you can double (triple, quadruple) the number of ideas you bring back to your institution. Make sure you meet up for dinner or coffee every day to swap stories while ideas are fresh.

7. Choose your adventure

At most conferences there’s a little bit of everything, from keynotes to poster sessions to all-day workshops. Take the time to figure out what kinds of sessions you want to attend ahead of time – once you’re at the conference, even the best conference app or website can be a blur, and many workshops require preregistration.

8. Leave room for spontaneity

Preparation is important. But (as anyone who works with students understands) so is knowing when to go off the book. The best product you try might just be the one you discover by following a hashtag on Twitter. The most helpful session might be one you heard about in the coffee line.

9. Make connections

Another college or university can be a different world – don’t miss the chance to explore. Get to sessions early to chat up another attendee. Break the ice in the coffee line by asking about someone’s best experience so far. The more people you talk to, the more inspiration you’ll have when you’re back at your school.

10. Make connections – the introvert’s edition

Does networking leave you with a feeling of dread? You can join the conversation and never have to approach a stranger. Most conferences have a hashtag you can follow for Twitter – at UBTech, it’s #UBTech. Tag your posts and then take part. You’ll likely leave with many new connections and followers to keep ideas flowing after the conference is done. For more conference tips for introverts, read this post.

11. Play with new tech

Kids get to play all the time – how about you? In the exhibit hall, you’ll have lots of chances to test-drive the latest technology. We’ll be showing Active Zone Control, the latest development in our HDL300 audio conferencing systems, and Span™ Workspace at UBTech.

12. Talk to vendors

Tell us what you think – what you really think. IT conferences are a great place to chat with tech companies and explain your biggest needs – and how our products could be better. I can tell you firsthand that we hugely appreciate educators, administrators and IT folks who take the time to share their thoughts.

13. Keep the learning going

Conferences are intense – after all, you’re packing weeks (months?) of learning into just a handful of days. So make sure the learning lasts. Get on Twitter and follow your favorite presenters. Get your colleagues on board with a small change you want to implement right away. And then start getting ready for your next adventure in conferencing.


Going to UBTech?

If you’re heading to UBTech in Orlando this year, make sure to stop by Nureva’s booth (718). You can try Span Workspace, a real-time collaboration tool for active learning, plus hear how Active Zone Control in our HDL300 audio conferencing systems eliminates the need for lapel mics for lecture capture.

Visit us at UBTech

Editor’s note: This post was originally published October 2018 and has been updated.

Topics: Professional Development