How to Get the Most Out Of Your First Professional Conference Experience

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By Tasheé Singleton
Chapter President of IMA Chattahoochee Valley chapter, Secretary of IMA Gulf South Council, and At-Large Director for IMA Global
Comptroller, Housing Authority of Columbus, GA

There are so many things to learn at a professional conference. What I took away from my first conference experience was to be myself, be a sponge, take initiative, and establish and foster relationships.
 
Be Yourself

Attending my first conference, which was IMA's Annual Conference & Exposition, opened my eyes to different views of the accounting and finance profession. Yet, the scariest part was being in the presence of so many knowledgeable people from numerous areas of accounting and finance. At the time, I was involved with a university real estate foundation so I discussed what I knew best and tailored a lot of the conversations I had towards project allocations.

It was also helpful to speak with people who held more senior-level positions within organizations. Being involved in the day-to-day operations of a company as a young professional, it's sometimes hard to see the big picture. It was refreshing to discuss macro-level business issues and get a sense of how my work affects an organization as a whole.

Be a Sponge

IMA's Annual Conference gave each attendee an opportunity to earn continuing professional education credits while learning about practical topics. The topics varied from personal career management, (such as e-mail and time management), to technical skills such as resource consumption and balanced scorecard. I attended a session on email management, which helped me organize my work emails in a way that minimized the feeling of being overload, which has allowed me to complete tasks in a timely manner. Thanks to this session, I no longer feel overwhelmed by the volume of emails in my inbox.

Take Initiative

Although I only knew three to four people at the conference, I did not want to limit my experience to being only with those few people. I pushed past my fear and initiated conversations with nearly everyone I encountered. I made notes and cited who I spoke with and what regional IMA chapter they belonged to. It's unlikely that I'll be able to contact every person this coming year; however, because all these people are part of the same organization, it is likely I will see them again at next year's conference. Prior to the next event, I'll pull out the previous year's notes to remind myself of the people I met, and at the next conference I plan to follow-up with at least five people I met last year. 

Network

Another reason to attend a professional conference is to network. I had the most fun taking pictures of everyone. I wrote down their name and which chapter/council they represented. Any business cards I received, I marked the date I met them and that it was at the Annual Conference. Establishing these new contacts allowed me to begin new relationships. I can now reach out to these contacts for assistance on job-related projects. In fact, I have used my conference contacts to be sounding boards for ideas or how to tweak processes or procedures. These contacts have proved invaluable. Even if I don't have a specific question to ask one of these people, I reach out just to say "hello" to maintain the relationship and not lose touch.

Having learned a few things during this exciting process, here are the key lessons I can share with you as you consider attending your first professional event: be yourself, attend as many sessions as you can and take detailed notes to reference in the future, and push past your fears by taking the initiative to introduce yourself to strangers to enlarge your network. Keeping this advice in mind will allow you to establish and foster new relationships and get the most out of your conference experience.
 

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