A few weeks ago, I returned from my second go-around at the NACDA convention in humid Orlando, FL. NACDA is a huge event: this year, attendance topped 6,000, many of whom attended multiple sub-conventions (which happened over the course of a week or so). Organizations in this year’s sub-convention category included NACMA (National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators), NAAD (Development), and the newest addition to the group, NAATSO (Ticket Sales and Operations). These different tracks host sessions specific to their division within the athletic department, and are a great place for individuals to discuss, learn, and gain insights and ideas they can bring back to campus to be more effective.
No longer a rookie to this conference, I had a much better handle on what to expect this year than last. Some tips I practiced this time around are below, and they don’t just apply to NACDA – they’re valid for any conference, convention, or event one attends for professional development, networking, or sales purposes.
- Look at the agenda ahead of time. Schedule the most important sessions in your calendar so you know where to go and at what time.
- Get involved in your sessions! Ask questions. Presenters will remember you, and you can get information from people who are leaders in their respective spaces. This also allows you to be a little selfish and learn something that can benefit you or your company specifically
- Schedule meetings with other attendees and presenters in advance, and nail down a specific time and place to meet. Though it’s tempting to say “I’m sure I’ll see you there!”, you cannot rely on bumping into each of your key contacts at a moment when you both have time to talk (especially at an event as large as NACDA).
- Begin all conversations with the assumption that you’re speaking to a VIP – that is, don’t be overly casual. No matter how young or casual someone might look (especially during socializing times), it is impossible to know for sure who is an AD and who is an intern, so start your conversations as if you’re talking to the former and then modifiy as you go, depending on the dynamic.
- Dress professionally. People notice. You don’t want to be the most casual person in the room.
- Make a note of who you talk to. After a conversation, I find it helpful to jot down a person’s name, where they work, and maybe something notable about the conversation to jog my memory when I get back home so I can follow up. If you get a business card from a new contact, make a follow-up note on the back of the card (“Send sales deck”, “Get resume”, etc.).
- Follow up, and do it quickly. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” has a lot of truth to it, so make sure to circle back with everyone you meet before too long so they will be more likely to recognize you next time around, or answer your next call.