How to Make the Most of Your NCDA Conference Experience

By Samara Reynolds

Though attending a conference is a valuable professional development opportunity, it can also feel like a whirlwind of information, people, emotions, and ideas. To help participants at this year’s NCDA Global Career Development Conference have the best possible experience, we have crafted a list of suggestions that we feel is relevant for first-timers, young professionals, students, and anyone hoping to maximize their time at the event. The Comment section is open below, so experienced conference attendees can add to our list.


Prior to the Conference:


Download the conference Program Book from the conference website, which is always available weeks before the conference. Take the time to read all about the conference, including daily schedules and individual session details (this is a great way to spend your time while waiting in the airport!) You may also want to review the FAQs on the conference website, which will help you better understand the different program options and session formats (e.g., presentations, roundtables, etc.). Members should plan to attend the Annual Membership Meeting - download the Annual Meeting Report now, so you can read the election information in advance of voting.


We hope you will download the new NCDA Conference App on your Android or iPhone/iPad mobile device which is always available a month before the conference. The App has some cool features like creating your own conference schedule and bookmarking specific speakers or sessions. There is an option to evaluate each session immediately following the session, a map feature that can guide you to specific session locations, and a networking feature that allows you to post an electronic business card for others to see. You can find the App at the Google Play Store or the iOS store. To locate the App, just search for NCDA. Once you download the App onto your mobile device you can then tap on the Career Development Conference icon. From there, you will be requested to either setup an account or login without an account. You do not have to setup an account but doing so will allow full access to all of the features within the App. If you do not have an Android or iPhone, or would like to view the event on your desktop, you can click on https://event.crowdcompass.com/ncda2016. This URL will also allow BlackBerry devices or Windows phone/tablet users to access the web-based version. Conference App demonstrations will be provided throughout the conference at the new Cyber Showcase (formerly known as the Cyber Cafe). These half-hour sessions are informal tutorials, using our devices or yours, covering the basics of setting up an account or exploring the great features. Questions will be answered at any time!


Spending your time wisely at the conference:


Introduce yourself to one new person at each event or session.

Meeting new people and expanding one’s professional network is one of the top-rated benefits mentioned by conference attendees of all ages and experience levels. People you meet at NCDA often become valuable colleagues and contacts, as well as future conference buddies to reconnect with in years to come. Remember to exchange information and follow up post-conference.


Test out the many different program formats.

Presentations are the most familiar and frequent sessions. Lasting one hour, there are close to 90 choices overall -- approximately 13 to choose from in each Series. A select few of these Presentations were chosen as Featured Session.  Roundtables, offered at the same time as Presentations, consist of two 25-minute discussions within a 60-minute Program Series. Attendees have the opportunity to have a more interactive session at one roundtable then choose a second roundtable after the first round is completed. Professional Development Institutes (PDI) are in-depth learning experiences that provide four additional continuing education contact hours. PDI’s require an additional registration and fee and are only offered in two sessions on the day before the start of the main conference. New conference program formats such as CareerTalks and Graduate Student Poster Sessions are shorter in length, yet still full of content and connections.


Select at least one program aimed at your own professional development or personal interests.

There are a number of sessions offered that focus on practitioner wellness, career advancement, entrepreneurship, and other topics that keep us growing and thriving in this field. (Use the Search function on the App to identify your areas of interest.) While you may find yourself mostly attending sessions that address your clients’ needs, be sure to check out at least one program that will benefit you personally or professionally.


Participate in the First-Timers Session or State Leadership Training.

Based on feedback from last year’s conference participants, highlights of attending the First-Timers Session included meeting NCDA officers, connecting with other first-timers/new members/young professionals, and getting more excited about the conference experience and all that is offered. For returning participants, even if you aren’t a state CDA president, you may want to check out the State Leadership Training session to learn about leadership at the state level, meet current, future, and past presidents of state CDAs, and see how you can get more involved.


Invite a new contact to share a meal with you.

The best way to get to know someone new may very well be to break bread together. Going out to breakfast, lunch, dinner, or coffee with a fellow participant is a perfect way to connect on a more personal level in a large, hectic conference environment. Consider sitting next to someone new at lunch, asking a contact to join you for a meal after a session, or including a new person in an established group of colleagues headed to grab a bite.


Sit in on an NCDA Committee Meeting.

Open committee meetings will be held in the morning before the conference opens. These gatherings are meant for current and potential committee members, as well as those simply interested in common topics impacting NCDA. If you are seeking out your niche in this organization, attending a committee meeting is a great way to meet people and get inspired to contribute further.


Attend networking and social events [without any fear of awkwardness].

Though we already mentioned that networking is perhaps the greatest benefit of attending the conference, many people feel a bit uneasy walking into a big social event. Here are a few tips to put you at ease and energize you around the idea of connecting in this setting:

  • Engage with someone who does not yet have someone to talk to, or invite someone you met at an earlier session to join a conversation with you and a colleague. Pretend you are hosting. Start conversations with the aim of making someone else feel welcome and less alone in a big room.

  • Seize the opportunity to talk to an NCDA leader, “celebrity” in the field, or more seasoned professional in person. How often will you be in the same room with someone whose name you have seen on a textbook or in an article you referenced in grad school? Strike up a conversation and reap the benefits of having these individuals and their wisdom at your fingertips.

  • Attend the Welcome Reception and the Party.These are two great social events designed to bring people together. The Welcome Reception is a time to gather together with old friends and new on the conference opening night. Light hors d'oeuvres will be served along with an available cash bar. Entrance is free to conference attendees (please wear your badge as identification) and additional guest tickets may be purchased. At the Party, join friends and colleagues to celebrate career development! The night will include dancing, dessert, and a cash bar.



Following up on your experience:


Reach out to any presenters of sessions you wanted to check out but missed.

There are a ton of programs to choose from and you will undoubtedly have to make the tough choice to attend one session over another. Don’t be afraid to follow up – via email, social media, or in person if you can – with the presenters of sessions you missed. They may be willing to share their handouts/presentation with you and engage in further conversation on the topic. Also check out the Handouts or "Sharing" table (typically located in the registration area) that allows participants to “take one” of any extra materials.


Before, during and After the conference:


Connect via social media.

There are many ways to use technology and social media to enhance your conference experience, keep track of new contacts, and deepen your involvement with NCDA post-conference. We encourage you to check out the Cyber Showcase, connect to people you meet via one or more of your social networks, and join the NCDA LinkedIn group. You may want to track your experience via Twitter and share useful information with those that can’t be in attendance. You can also follow @NCDA or @NCDAWebEditor now and well after the event. Remember to post regular tweets about the conference (#NCDAchicago) and/or start a discussion on the NCDA LinkedIn, Facebook group!


This compilation of suggestions came together via results from previous years’ participant surveys, my own experiences at NCDA conferences and other large-scale professional development events, and thoughtful discussion amongst current and future leaders of the organization. Whether you implement one of these ideas or all of them, we hope reading through this list helps you create a more meaningful, comfortable, and energizing experience at the NCDA Global Development Conference.


Samara Reynolds 2013Samara Reynolds, M.Ed., is the Director of Career Services at the University of Washington Bothell. She has been invested in the field of career development since 2005 and has served in related roles at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University, Meredith College, and Virginia Tech. She earned her B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech and her M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from NC State. Samara is an Associate Editor for Career Convergence, a Past-President of the North Carolina Career Development Association (NCCDA) and an alumnus of the 2012-2013 NCDA Leadership Academy. You can contact Samara via email at samara.reynolds@gmail.com.

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