The Conference Rules

With NASPA (March 12th-16th) & ACPA (March 26th-30th) being right around the corner, it’s not too early to start preparing for this year’s annual conferences. Conferences serve as a prime opportunity for professional development and networking, re-connecting with former colleagues while also expanding your professional network. Whether it’s your first or thirty-first annual conference, I’m sure someone along the way has shared tips, etiquette, & advice for conferences—what to do, what not to do, and everything in between! The reality is that every student affairs professional has their own personal set of “conference rules” they follow, so it’s always good to talk with several people to learn what’s important to them. With that said, here are a few of my own “Conference Rules”:

  • Dress Professionally— At a professional conference, it’s always better to over dress than under dress (and this couldn’t be more true for those of you who are job searching!). Business casual attire is typically standard for NASPA & ACPA, including evening socials and receptions. Every conference seems to have its own culture, so be sure to ask a colleague who has attended a particular conference about the dress code and any special events (casual outings, theme nights, or formal events) that would require special attire.  You can also check the conference schedule online beforehand to prepare as well.
  • Assumptions—I know we generally shy away from making assumptions about people, but here is one assumption that is perfectly okay to make at a conference: ASSUME EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYONE. Had a negative experience at a session or placement interview? Keep it to yourself. Don’t vent about it in your next session, the hotel elevator, or even the café across the street—you never know who might be eavesdropping. You’ve heard the phrase “It’s a small world”, but it’s an even smaller world in student affairs!
  • Participate—Be an active participant in the sessions you attend. Jot down notes or ideas you can bring back & implement at your own institution. Introduce yourself to those sitting around you, and don’t hesitate to ask questions to the presenters. At the end of the day, remember you are not only representing you, you are also representing your entire institution.
  • Balance—Conferences are filled with an overwhelming amount of educational, networking, and social opportunities. Plan out your days and be intentional about balancing these opportunities. It might not be the smartest idea to attend late night social events when your supervisor is expecting you to attend that 7:30am educational session that will help you prepare for that upcoming project at work. Also, for my fellow introverts out there, conference days have the potential to be very long & exhausting. It’s more than okay to build in breaks & alone time during the day to reenergize.
  • Alcohol—Sure the hotel bar can be a fun place to catch up with old friends & even make new friends, but be sure to watch your alcohol consumption. Remind yourself that you are at a professional conference and surrounded by your current and potential future employers and colleagues. First, second, and even third impressions do matter, so keep this in mind when weighing the importance of that extra drink versus your professional reputation.

My “Conference Rules” are by no means the entire rule book. Every professional has their own set of tips to share to both conference newcomers and veterans, which leads me to the question: What’s in your rule book??

Lauren Wilson, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey



Filed under Conferences

2 responses to “The Conference Rules

  1. Karen Archambault

    One that I was reminded of just earlier this year — we’re all at the same conference, so we already have something in common. Say hello to and smile at EVERYONE. While some may think you’re a little crazy, at worst they’ll think you’re “friendly crazy.” Tying in with everyone knowing everyone, you never know who might be a staff member at the institution at which you’re trying to land a position.

  2. Patrick Love

    Great list! I have a few more:
    -Try on clothes before the conference (You might not have worn them in a while!). Beware of new shoes – you will be on your feet all day!
    -Bring throat lozenges (or buy them when you get there). You will find you are often in venues where you need to speak in a louder voice than you normally do.
    -Write down names of people you meet, or if you receive a business card write on the back where you met the individual.

    For those job searching:
    -Take notes IMMEDIATELY after your interview. You may need these moving forward.
    -Remember that there are two placement experiences: residence life and everyone else. Be careful to whom you are comparing your experience.
    -Don’t be a placement “ghost” – get out of there once and a while.
    -The vast majority of interviewers are NOT trained, so you may need to carry an interview and provide the information they need to hear about you. Untrained interviewers tend to make their decision in the first few minutes of the interview and spend the rest of the time looking for evidence to substantiate that first impression. Therefore, a firm handshake, a smile, and an ability to put the INTERVIEWER at ease (e.g., with small talk) becomes that much more important!

    Good luck everyone!
    Patrick Love
    Associate Vice President for Student Affairs
    Rutgers University

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