Higher Education Innovation In Action

A Registrar’s Guide to Making the Most of Higher Ed Conferences

Mindy Starcher, Vice President Nov 03, 2016

It is conference season!  My last few weeks have been filled with travel to a number of excellent state ACRAO conferences, and at each one of them I was thrilled to see so many new members! It got me thinking about all of the conferences I attended as an assistant registrar and how many doors those types of things have opened in my career.

Much has changed since I was on that side of the booth – the topics, the technology, and the attendees themselves – but the one thing that remains the same is that association conferences are still an important resource for registrars, both personally and professionally. With that in mind, here are a few quick tips for making the most of the experience, whether it’s the annual AACRAO meeting, a state ACRAO, or an event sponsored by another organization.

Get Involved

There are at least two easy ways to get involved in an organization and at their associated conference: join a committee, or volunteer to present.

Join a committee

Whether you’re working on the local arrangements committee, helping with exhibitors, recruiting new members, or helping to plan the program, committee participation is fun, and it’s a great way to connect to an organization while meeting people from across the state or country who are doing what you’re doing.

Committee participation doesn’t require a huge financial or time commitment. Among the state association conferences, for example, much of the committee business is conducted via email or web conferencing. And committee work is a lot less stressful than getting up on a stage and speaking in front of a crowd.

[Related post: Conference Strategies for Introverts]

Volunteer to present (or find someone who can)

That said, if you’re comfortable with public speaking, why not offer to lead a presentation or join a panel discussion? Think about your area of expertise, or a topic that interests you, and either volunteer for it yourself or suggest a colleague you think would be perfect for the role.

Whichever path you choose, the biggest benefit to you is visibility: when it comes time for an association to nominate their executive committee, they’ll look for people like you who’ve been involved. And this, in my experience, can pay big dividends throughout your career.

Plan Ahead

Even if you choose not to take an active role in a conference, you should plan your schedule in advance to maximize your time there. Most organizations post an agenda on their website a couple of weeks before the event. You might even look for sessions your colleagues back home are interested in – you can attend for them and bring notes and session materials to share when you return.

Have Fun

Whether it’s a Paint & Sip event, a treasure hunt or costume party, the social gatherings are where the real networking happens — don’t ever skip them! They provide a casual atmosphere where you can make some real connections, and they’re an opportunity to discuss the latest big topic in higher ed or the day-to-day challenges you face in the registrar’s office. Chances are, your peers are facing those challenges too and might even have some advice to offer. Best of all? You’ll come away with lifelong friends and contacts.

Pay It Forward

To keep the momentum going after the conference, be sure to reach out to the people whose business cards you collected or who introduced themselves to you in the coffee line. If you don’t have an immediate need for a particular contact, pass his or her card along to someone you know who does. Take lots of notes and if you attend a session you really like, and don’t be shy about asking questions or introducing yourself to the presenter afterward.

Another great way to pay it forward is to write about your experiences for the department blog or newsletter, or share what you’ve learned with colleagues who weren’t able to attend.  Industry conferences are about so much more than professional development, which is often the first thing to go when budgets are cut. The information gained and the contacts made are invaluable to registrars and ultimately benefit our industry as a whole.

Happy conferencing, and I look forward to seeing you next time at the Credentials booth!

Upcoming conferences we will be attending.