The following post, written by Olivia Coiro for Sparklesandsports.com, is intended to help prepare young females for the annual NACDA affiliates convention in Orlando, Fla. With permission by the writer, it has been cross posted by CAFEDCA.

The annual NACDA and affiliates convention is less than a week away. Now is about the time I start to get overwhelmed with what to pack, how to prepare, organize my schedule with all of the panels I hope to attend and find times to meet with people that I only get to see once a year or have not yet met in person.

A lot of you may be going to convention for the first time. It can be overwhelming. My biggest piece of advice would be to make yourself visible. And no, not visible by the pool. The first two conventions I attended I spent two days by the pool rather than in programming that our colleagues work so hard to organize. This was especially silly for me at the time because I was living in Florida so it’s not even like I was enjoying the nice tropical weather that I only saw once a year. Pool time is okay, but don’t miss out on great opportunities to network and learn just for a tan and a frozen drink. Remember, your employer is sending you for professional development. If you are going on your own, convention is an expensive investment, use your opportunity for all it is worth.

The first thing I do when preparing for convention is planning out my schedule. NACDA launched an app last year which is a great way to organize the panels you wish to attend and see other affiliates’ programming as well. It’s basically a mobile version of the handbook you receive upon check-in. For me, I am a little old school and enjoy printing, highlighting and writing out panels/events I wish to attend.

Step 1: PRINT AND HIGHLIGHT PANELS YOU WISH TO ATTEND

Print out the schedule for your registered convention. I will be attending my fifth CoSIDA this year and I try my best not to repeat panels that I have gone to in the past. Though each year presenters and panelists are different and I can learn something new, I would rather change up panels and learn a variety of things rather than the same thing three different ways.

Step 2: PLAN OUT YOUR SCHEDULE

I am a handwritten person. I have three calendars I keep at work; a planner, a big desk calendar and my iCal. It’s how I organize. The more times I write something the better I will remember it. So I fill in my planner with the panels that I want to attend. I also include special events like night time socials, kickoff events and luncheons. It’s also important at the time to include the committee meetings you will be at, since some of them are not on the main schedule yet.

Step 3: DOWNLOAD THE #NACDA17 APP

The app officially launched last year for Dallas but it’s back this year. You can find it in your App Store/Play Store. Just search ‘NACDA & Affiliates Convention’ and you will find it.

Step 4: CREATE YOUR PROFILE

An awesome feature with this app is you can link it to your social media accounts and LinkedIn. If you are connected to LinkedIn, you can automatically create your profile pulling info from your LinkedIn account which saves you some time. Once you create your profile, look around on the app. You can post status updates and connect with others using the app who are attending for all different affiliates, not just the one you are registered for.

Step 5: FILL OUT YOUR AGENDA, TURN ON ALERTS!

If you search through the agenda on the right side, there is a “+” button next to each panel. You can add this directly to your personal agenda which helps you have a mobile version if you prefer that. I actually have a written agenda and mobile one. I’m weird.

Step 6: CHECK OUT OTHER AFFILIATE SCHEDULES

Many of us have friends and colleagues that will be presenting for other affiliates. I like to check out the other agendas and support my friends or find something that interests me and add it to my schedule.

The next thing I do is contact all the groups/committees I wish to meet with while in Orlando. My list includes CoSIDA’s New Media Committee, Job Seekers and FAME as well as the #YPSportsChat and CAFEDCA people.

There’s a TON of evening events too. Everything from the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, something I look forward to every year, to the YC Charity Social on Tuesday night.

Last year, I did the CoSIDA community service event. This year I opted out since I didn’t want to miss a whole day of programming. Though the community service event put on by the Health & Wellness committee is an awesome experience. Instead, I will be running (yikes!) the Charity 5K. Registration fees go to charity, and so do the YC Charity Social registration fees, FYI.

Next thing, and the most important to many people, is what to wear. There’s the timeless discussion of polo/khakis or business casual. My first two years I wore a polo and khakis and now, I don’t even own an East Carolina polo. My reasoning for this is that I believe you should dress for the job you want, not the one you already have. Especially where there are administrators floating around who may one day be on a hiring committee for a job you want. Let’s be honest, what female looks good in a polo? Sorry but it’s true. Also, it gets cold in some of the meeting rooms so I suggest packing a few cardigans/sweaters or a blazer.

Whatever you do, make sure you wear comfortable shoes that you can walk in. If you don’t wear heels often, don’t wear them at convention. There’s a lot of walking during the day and your feet will be killing you by lunch time. I wear heels 4-5 days a week so you know I am excited to show off my shoe collection down in Orlando. I might have to bring a carry-on just of shoes! I’m kidding (maybe.) For those of you who can’t spend eight hours in heels, wear a cute pair of flats or even fancy sandals. We are in Florida after all.

Pack a bathing suit in case you do find some down time to catch some rays by the pool. There also is a pretty fun water slide at the pool. I’ve gone down it many times but my water slide days are over. I pack my schedule so full I barely see sunlight during the day.

Casual clothes are a must, especially for the evening events. Many socials are off sight at locations like Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney) and such where business casual is not necessary. I would advise not wearing school branded attire for social events if you will be out having an adult beverage or two. You don’t want to be remembered as “the girl in the lobby” with people only remembering your employer. Jeans, nice tops, flip flops, these are all things to have packed for night time.

So if you are unsure if you want to go the traditional (and in my opinion completely tacky) polo and khakis route or business casual, consider my plea of keeping it a little fancier. The way I like to represent my school is with a lapel pin. It’s simple and allows you to still “dress to impress.”

Grab a stack of business cards. One of my former bosses and I used to have a competition of who can come back with more business cards. Always keep a stack with you, even at night socials. Exchange cards with those you meet. If you aren’t currently affiliated with a school or conference, it’s not too late to create your own on Vista Print. Last year I didn’t have school business cards so I made my own, expedited the shipping and had them in time for convention. If you are a job seeker, this is a great opportunity to exchange contact info with people. I also recommend carry a few copies of your resume if you’re on the hunt. You can add it to the job board in the lobby, drop a stack off in the Job Seekers room or pass them out to people you meet.

Lastly, take notes. One of my coworkers at ECU just told me about the Microsoft One Note app for my iPad. I am pretty excited to use it this year although I am old school and enjoy writing notes by hand. With that being said, bring a few pens and a note pad. You’ll only remember 2% of the info you hear in panels unless you write things down. Last year I came back with 20 pages of notes. I still use those notes frequently. Plus, having something tangible to come back to your staff with and show them what you learned while in Orlando.

I am really looking forward to meeting new people this year, reconnecting with old friends and learning so many new things that I can bring back to East Carolina.

As a reminder, Katie and myself will both be there this year and would love to meet some of our readers. If you will be there, feel free to give us a shout via social media or email (sparkleandsports@gmail.com)

I will be moderating a CoSIDA panel on Sunday at 3:30 called Unique Working Situations in the Sago room and Katie will be presenting for CoSIDA Trending Topics: Apps for Efficiency at 2:20 in the Grand Cayman/Puerto Rico room on Tuesday. Please come and support both of us!

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