ASCA14noobsEveryone has their first national conference – it is okay to admit it.

While I may not yet be able to call myself an ASCA National Conference Veteran, I have been to enough to remember what it was like as a Noob (aka someone who is new…), but experienced enough to pass along some wisdom. Whether you are a counselor with your first job, an excited graduate student, or a counseling sage – the first time to a large conference can be an overwhelming experience unless you come prepared. In this article, I will help you optimize your experience to get the most from #ASCA14 as you can!

Tip 1: Do your research!

That is right – there is actually a lot to think about when you get ready to go to a conference. From what are the things you are most excited to learn about to things as simple as deciding what shoes to wear. All are valuable thoughts that can save you time and an aching body. This year’s ASCA conference is in sunny (and humid) Orlando, FL. Many are very excited about hitting up Disney World, but if you are like me (cheap…), I will be hoping to catch a few World Cup matches and network with colleagues in my time off.

Here are a few key questions to ask yourself as you do your research and prepare for your journey:

  1. What are you hoping to get out of the journey primarily? Do you have a specific topic or theme you are going to try hit with your conference sessions? Perhaps you are really going to try and network because you need some connections for a future job?
  2. Where is the conference at this year and how should I pack? Are you a melting popsicle in the heat or are you totally used to it? Remember that the conference itself is inside and can actually tend to be chilly for some attendees. Also check your level of dress – I usually stick with business casual (nicer jeans, shoes, and polo or button down for the guys), but if you are out job hunting – perhaps stepping it up a little.
  3. Download the ASCA Conference Mobile App (or use the web version of the program) to check out the different sessions each day. I would prioritize your top 2 or 3 per time slot. Some get long, are not what you expected, or you just want to hit a bit of each – session hopping is kosher in my eyes. I am partial towards the Branding and Marketing Your School Counseling Program on Mon. 6/30 at 9am.
  4. Think about ways you can give back to your other attendees or co-workers. Just because you are not presenting, doesn’t mean you cannot contribute. Get extra resources, share thoughts with others in between sessions, and mingle at lunch.

Tip 2: Get Social

For me, one of the most fun things to do is watch Twitter explode during the sessions each day. Dozens of school counselors essentially live-tweet nearly all the sessions. So while I can only be in one at a time, I can follow along to a certain level with other sessions happening at the same time. This also helped me when I was not able to make it to a conference (Minneapolis) – I followed along from home and learned a ton plus got connected to great resources. If you are not on twitter yet, I cannot implore you enough to get on before #ASCA14. A great tutorial via Dr. Erin Mason and Danielle Schultz at is linked to here.

While at home or ASCA this year, to follow the happenings, there are two key hashtags: #ASCA14 and #scchat. Both of these will hit trending status during the several days on Twitter and be ready to get educated! Don’t worry though – these tweets stick around after the fact so you can refer back or catch up later.

 Tip 3: Get Networking

Networking at professional events is a super way to make new friends, create contacts across the country, and share thoughts or ideas with others. This is also one of the most nausea inducing parts of going to professional conferences. I too share some of the social phobias and actually dislike large crowds – but I also know what I am getting myself into and can usually turn on the charm. Some of you cannot though. What do you do then? I challenge you to try to meet at least one new person per session that you attend. It is actually pretty easy and here are the steps:

  1. Go into the conference room and sit down next to or near someone (don’t get awkward if the room is empty by sitting in the chair next to them…).
  2. Turn and say “Hi, I’m Jeff and I am from California – how are you this <enter time of day here>?”
  3. Wait for them to speak….

That simple. 8 out of 10 times you do this it will spark a nice conversation. If you enjoy talking with the person, see what they are doing for dinner or if they came with a group of colleagues that you could meet too. Remember – this is not a date or an interview so there are no wrong answers and you can always back out…

Another tip for networking is carry some business cards. This is a handy way to keep in touch or to help meet up at a later time at the conference. I love to collect business cards at ASCA and usually bring about 100 with me. Several times a year, I find myself reaching out to someone I met to get some wisdom, ask a question, or offer my help to.

Finally, plan on making it a mission to find people to socialize with AFTER the conference sessions are over in the afternoons. Get some people to go out to dinner, drinks, or watch the World Cup! This creates some great memories and opportunities for personal and professional conversations.

Tip 4: Be realistic

If you are going to #ASCA14 with the idea that you will learn everything there is to be had – you are delusional. There are over 100 sessions and tons of vendors. Like the research tip above, prioritize your time and energy. I find that I retain more knowledge by really buying into a series of topics that I may want to focus on in the coming year and diving in. By hitting tons of different topics, we get a lot of pretty surface level ideas – but by targeting a topic, we can take it back to our site and put it into action. That said, there is something nice about the spice of change and branching out to something new. Take a risk on a topic you may not know anything about once or twice. Sometimes that session will end up being your favorite and if not – remember that session hopping is not outlawed. But if you are not sure if you will stay or know you will be leaving half way through, please sit towards the back.

It is what you make of it

You get out of ASCA what you put into it. If you go in with a good attitude, a strong desire to connect, and a plan for how to tackle the sessions – you will undoubtedly have a lovely time. If you show up, sit in the corner of the sessions, and then lock yourself in your hotel room – you may learn a little, but I promise you — that is not the ASCA National Conference. Think big, take a risk, and have fun.

Join me and others on an #ASCA14 focused School Counseling on Air event

Please join Erin Mason and special guests on June 24th at 8pm EST / 5pm PST via Live Hangout (viewable live via YouTube). Links will be shared here, on SCOPE, and via most social media outlets. Stay tuned.

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#ASCA14 – ASCA Tips for the Noob

time to read: 7 min

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