Attending your first conference? Feeling overwhelmed or intimidated? Don’t worry; it’s natural. Conferences can definitely be intimidating. They are held in crowded cities and attended by hundreds of people you don’t know. It’s no wonder you occasionally feel like hiding out in your hotel room. Once you get past your fears, however, you’ll find the few days you spend at a conference to be some of your most memorable. To help you get the most out of your first, or next, conference, AASLH’s Emerging History Professionals’ Affinity Group has put together the following list:
1. When you travel to a conference for the first time, you may be tempted to stay close to your colleagues or classmates. Fight the temptation. You will not meet other professionals, potential employers, or leaders in the field by standing around and talking with people you already know.
2. Some first time conference attendees will sit in on four or five sessions and then turn in for the night. Always remember, conference sessions are just one part of the experience. Many brilliant ideas, professional collaborations, and lifelong friendships stem from conversations held outside of conference rooms, in the hotel lobby, at a social event, or over dinner.
3. When you peruse the conference agenda, you will read the names of some people you would like to meet. Maybe one of your public history heroes or heroines, someone who works at your dream museum, or a potential employer. You want to speak to them, leave a good impression, and keep in touch. If this is your intention, think carefully about what you want to say to these people. There is nothing that can dampen a conversation more than an awestruck graduate student struggling to speak and settling, finally, on the question, “Will you hire me?”
4. Invest in some business cards. You may fancy you’re hard to forget, but you will be forgotten by some of the people you meet at a conference. Everyone meets anywhere from ten to twenty people and if there are no business cards, email addresses, or phone numbers to help put a name to a face they will forget you. Don’t expect people to hunt you down on Facebook. For practicality’s sake, get some business cards and hand them out.
5. Conference organizers intentionally choose venues in exciting cities. They pick cities with innovative museums, notable architecture, excellent restaurants, and diverse cultures. It would be a shame to sit in the hotel and order pizza. Go out with some of your new friends and explore!
Ethan Morris is a graduate student in museum studies at Middle Tennessee State University. His bachelor’s is in Social Studies Education and he worked in the Louisville, Kentucky area as a high school teacher, an interpreter at the Frazier History Museum, the education coordinator at Farmington Historic Plantation, and a tour guide at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. In graduate school, Morris wrote lesson plans for Teaching with Primary Sources-MTSU, a program sponsored by MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation and the Library of Congress. He also organized public programs at the Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center and, with several classmates, won the 2015 Southeastern Museums Conference Spotlight in Student Research Award for a series of programs and an exhibit on local educational history. Morris is currently finishing his master’s on exchange at Northumbria University in Newcastle, England where he works on public programs for the National Trust. He serves on the committee for AASLH’s Emerging History Professionals Affinity Community.