Friday, July 19, 2013

To Expect, or Not to Expect, That is the Question [of attending APRA International Conference]

As we continue gearing up for the Big APRA conference in just a few short weeks, APRA veteran Christy Wineland has signed on to give us some insights into planning for your trip to Baltimore. Christy joins us from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Foundation, where she serves as assistant director of advancement research. Though, today, she's playing dual-roles as Conference Travelling Expert! Thanks for joining us, Christy!
William Shakespeare once wrote "O Lord, I could have stayed here all the night To hear good counsel. Oh, what learning is!" (Romeo and Juliet, III, iii) Shakespeare may agree with me that a conference of such caliber of APRA International is indeed an excuse to stay up all night to hear good counsel as the learning curve is impressive.

But attending this Conference, no matter how many times I come back, can feel like sitting smack in the middle of a theatre pit with four plays performing all at once. Flashing lights of knowledge will cause whiplash as you attempt to catch and compute with your brain. While there is no way to slow down the flashing lights, I can share a few tidbits of advice to help attending the show be more comfortable.

  • First of all, while standing in line at the airport (or bus, train, or carrier pigeon), take a picture of your luggage with your cell phone and any distinguishing marks. That way when you need to describe it to lost-and-found desk, your answer is not “it’s blue, it’s new and it’s yee-high.”
  • Bring something easy to write on to take your notes on. Not all session rooms will have tables for a laptop / tablet nor even have an outlet plug within easy reach. Nor do not expect wifi. The Wi-Fi is either not available or too weak from everyone updating their Twitter status to be useful. APRA had a computer cafĂ© area for your internet needs, but lines can get long during breaks and sneaking in to use it during sessions will only result in the door guard heckling you to leave. Tears were not so successful with said guard. 
  • Review and reflect on the sessions you wish to attend. Write down questions you wish to ask. Do this both prior to and during the session. Memory recall can be tricky toward the end of a session during Q&A. “How are those metrics applied once obtained?” “How are foundations tracking incoming proposals?” “Where did the presenter get her cute shoes?” 
  • Bring a ton of business cards. If you do not have any, you can have them designed make them yourself for pretty cheap. When you receive a card, make a quick note on the card to help you keep track of who is who. Quips such as “expert in mapping” or “knows awesome recipe for sushi rolls” or “cute shoes!” will help you send the appropriate email later.  
  • Join social activities. Check the board, add your name, and meet new people. Conferences are not only a great way to build your knowledge base, but also your social network. Expect the unexpected. Last year, on a spur of moment, I joined several researchers to jump in a cab and found myself gazing at the Guthrie Theatre. The quiet moment as we all stood motionless staring at the river from the Endless Bridge was magical in itself. I swore I could see my luggage still sitting at the airport in Kansas City.  
  • Employ a buddy-system. While it is fun to attend sessions with friends, consider splitting up to attend different sessions. Later, come together and drop new knowledge on each other over tea and biscuits. That’s a Baltimore thing, right? From their English roots? Far too often great conference material dazzles you but once you get back to the office, the new dazzle takes a backseat to the daily grind of catch-up you will need to play. If you hear it, write it, and share it verbally, it will likely have an even greater impact upon you. 
  • Attend Saturday sessions. Saturday’s are a tough day for everyone. By now you are likely facing burn-out and information overload. You may also be dealing with the stress of checking out from the hotel room, trying to haul around your luggage, and planning your escape route returning flight plan. And yes, some of you will be also dealing with a hangover. But Saturday speakers often have placed a lot of time and effort into preparing their sessions only to have about half of the original signees to come. Don’t shortchange yourself by skipping them. Also, present them with presents or caffeine. They might be dealing with the list above also. 
  • Connect with speakers who have impacted you later in the year. Did a session change how you report metrics, save you significant time in researching real estate, or inspire you to find a new prospect pool? If nothing else, share your appreciation for the conference session. The speakers will love to hear from you. 
  • And finally, simply expect nothing and expect everything. There were sessions where my expectations and excitement for the learning high was beyond Mars and honestly, it would have been impossible for the session to meet that expectation. There were sessions where I had zero expectations and they blew me away. One time last year I found myself sitting in the wrong room (darn roman numerals on the doors!) but it wounded up being my true favorite and one that I find myself referring to the most during my daily work. Simply by expecting nothing, the speakers will give you everything!!


  1. I always love this blog! Thanks for sharing it with the 'L'!

  2. Wonderful advice! Especially about the luggage. Never thought of that. See you there...