First-Time Conference Confessions & Lessons Learned

Thanks to our wonderful partners, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, YNPN-TC was able to award 7 scholarships to the Nonprofit Technology and Communications Conference on April 10th. One of the lucky scholarship recipients shares her takeaways for our collective edification!

I've been working at Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) for a little over two-and-a-half years now, and on April 10, I reached a notable milestone: My First Conference.

main.jpgAlong with over 700 colleagues, I attended the Nonprofit Technology & Communications Conference.

Now, as someone who's never attended one of these before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Looking back, five things stood out from this experience:

  1. The technologically savvy still needs to remember to bring back-ups.
  2. Even at a conference, we all find ways to be creatively collaborative.
  3. The online conversation is just as important as the live ones. #Truth
  4. Networking happens only if you put yourself out there!
  5. Don't be afraid to go alone.

These may not seem like significant takeaways, but bear with me and I'll explain why I think these were noteworthy for me.

1. The technologically savvy still needs to remember to bring back-ups.

Because this was my first conference, I wanted to make sure to take great notes, learn best practices from my peers and follow along with each presentation, and make sure to engage with fellow attendees online. Notice how all three of these to-do items involve technology. 
Despite bringing my laptop and charger, I quickly realized that while I was accomplishing the goals I set aside for myself, I saw that my note-taking, PowerPoint follow-along, and Twitter banter were going to be a thing of the past because I had nowhere to plug in and re-charge during any given session. I cried into the Twittersphere and it was there I learned a valuable takeaway from Jason Samuels: "Conference Pro Tip - Purchase a Portable Battery Pack." Duly noted for future reference, sir. (FYI: Like others at this conference, I took advantage of the long break between the morning and afternoon sessions and scouted out an area to plug in and charge my computer. Erica FTW.)

2) Even at a conference, we all find ways to be creatively collaborative.

 One of the ways I learn and retain information best is by taking notes. Now imagine if you combine a lot of attendees' notes and then share the wealth. That's exactly what happened at this conference. I'm a bit of a novice when it comes to really using the power of Google docs but seeing this tool in action made me more of a believer...and I definitely appreciated being able to look at the Google docs to glean some quick tips and helpful notes from some of the other sessions I wanted to attend.

3) The online conversation is just as important as the live ones.

#Truth Confession: Besides being able to take notes at this conference, I actually brought my laptop so I had an easier time monitoring the awesome #mnnptech conversation that was sure to take place. Not only were the comments pretty amusing, but it was also another way to make sure I connected with others and--shocker--meet them in person, which segues right into my next conference lesson...

4) Networking happens only if you put yourself out there!

I'll be honest - I consider myself a shy person, but I really like meeting new people. What I'm about to say may make me sound a little old school, but even though it's really easy and fun to interact with people online through social media, it's always nice to put a face to the name.

It's slightly intimidating to just start a conversation with complete strangers, but I kept reminding myself that we all registered and attended for the same reason: We're in the marketing field and want to learn how to leverage technology for our organization's marketing needs. So, even though it was a little uncomfortable at first, the end result was making some truly great connections.

And lastly, one of the most important lessons that I hope encourages other shy nonprofit folks to jump in and attend conferences like these:

5) Don't be afraid to go alone. 

Sure, it's always nice to have that security blanket of already-familiar peers, but it also potentially prevents you from putting yourself out there and meeting new people. Maybe this lesson was something I had to learn by going to my first conference but I think it was one of the most valuable takeaways I could have garnered from this experience.

One of the scenarios I dreaded was eating lunch...alone. Flashback to awkward moments from your youth and the fear of being unwelcome to join a table of your peers. Yikes. Luckily, this wasn't Mean Girls and I had lunch with a really nice woman from one of the organizations tpt has partnered with on a few different broadcast productions, a connection I likely wouldn't have made had it not been for my super-shy question of "May I join you?"

Attending this conference was a fantastic experience. Now that I've learned these five lessons, I feel like I'm ready to go to another one. Who knows, maybe you and I will have the opportunity to meet at the YNPN National Conference this June?

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