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This Year's League Conference

You Can't Afford
to Stay Away

Bill Dressel
By William G. Dressel
League Executive Director

Due to the financial crisis facing most local governments this year, you may fear that you just can’t afford to attend the League Conference in November. I want you to know that just the opposite is the case—you can’t afford to miss it!

This year’s programs will focus on practical ways to make your taxpayers dollars go further than ever before. The sessions will also include the most up to date tips on how to compete for millions in state and federal grants and stimulus funding. And, as always, the conference is an opportunity to meet other local leaders and initiate conversations that may lead to shared services or other money saving arrangements for your town.

audience at work session - see caption below
This year’s programs will focus on practical ways to make your taxpayers dollars go further than ever before.

If you’re a new member, it’s your duty to learn all you can about the opportunities available in subjects as different as COAH and Green Energy Savings. As a veteran, you need to be on hand with other members of your governance team to stay up-to-date and contribute the insightful questions that make our sessions so valuable.

The 94th Annual Conference of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities will be held November 17, 18, 19 and 20 in the Atlantic City Convention Center. The Conference attracts 20,000 visitors and is the largest of its kind in the nation. By following a few basic tips—whether you are a newbie or a veteran—you can get even more out of your visit.

The Basics Let’s start with the most important tip—wear comfortable shoes. With over 200 sessions and 800 vendors and non profit exhibitors, the Exhibit Hall is at least half a million square feet!

Layer your clothing so that you can go from frigid air conditioning to high humidity (temperatures may vary, though I have always found the Atlantic City Convention center to be very comfortable.) It is not uncommon to get conference evaluation forms back complaining that the same room is too hot and too cold. Plan ahead.

You MUST have business cards—either make your own on the laser printer or photocopier or have extras made up.

Wear your name tag high so people can see it. For the sake of security, take it off when you leave the convention center.

Before the Conference Look at the program before you get there and plan your day. Please make note of the new time and date for the consulting period. It will now be held on Tuesday, November 17 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Make appointments in advance with those vendors you must see. Make or use an exhibit hall map in advance so you work the hall strategically. Likewise plan to meet those you may have only met on the Internet or phone.

The Sessions If you’re a first-timer, plan to attend the Newcomers Conference Orientation program at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 17. You’ll have a chance to make a few new friends and to plan your days!

see caption below

The League Conference is an opportunity to meet other local leaders and initiate conversations that may lead to shared services or other money saving arrangements for your town.

Next, study the program book and mark the sessions you don’t want to miss. Then draw a little time chart and note where these talks are and when. If you can’t make all of them, divide up the important sessions with other members of your municipality.

After this, make a list of all the people you want to say hello to, have a meal with or meet. This roster is your main task list for the meeting.

Once you arrive, budget your time carefully. If a session isn’t meeting your needs, leave—many sessions are going at one time. If you don’t see another session you want to attend, head for the Exhibit Hall.

Generally you are “allowed” to attend all sessions, including business meetings of the League, affiliate organizations’ meetings and Delegate Assembly (though voting is limited to delegates). Remember that some events, such as the League Luncheon and Womens’ Leadership Breakfast require tickets. Order these early, as space is limited.

If you want a good seat at a session, arrive a little early. If you’re late, have a little courage and take a seat. Don’t hover and shuffle at the back of the room or in the doorway. Whatever you do, don’t stand for an hour—you’ll regret it.

Networking Spend a little time researching new products and services in the Exhibit Hall. Have good questions for the vendors. You know how to research online—you can do that later. Find out why they are unique. DON’T assume that your old familiar vendors haven’t changed and that you know everything about them. This is your opportunity to learn what’s new and different. And if you have no idea what a vendor does—they’re completely new to you—ASK.

Take notes on the back of business cards—You WILL forget your conversations no matter how great they were at the time. Take notes on the back of cards about what you discussed and how you might work together.

Don’t be afraid to ask people to join you for dinner or to set up dinner groups—eating is a great networking opportunity.

sustainable Jersey booth
With over 200 sessions and 800 vendors and non profit exhibitors, the Exhibit Hall alone
is at least half a million square feet. Here a conference goer gets and update on Sustainable Jersey, a statewide green initiative.

Seek out those with staff or officer ribbons. Introduce yourself to me, the League’s Executive Director, and to the League Officers and staff. These folks are almost always in listening mode—so speak! Our staff works hard for us every day and at the Conference. Meet them and thank them.

And most of all enjoy the Conference!

After the Conference Fill out the conference evaluation forms. That’s how your input gets to the conference planning teams who can make a difference.

Write a report or press release and share it with other Council members and the media, and remember to explain the value of the conference to you and what you learned.

Keep up your new contacts. Follow up with colleagues or presenters that you met. Getting to know new colleagues and peers is one of the most rewarding components of conference attendance.

Valuing Your Conference Experience Here’s what I think are the best benchmarks that I use to value my League Conference experience:

  • I met at least one new person every day.
  • I learned at least one useful thing I didn’t know in a session every day.
  • I had at least one substantive discussion with a vendor about a new product that I might need.
  • I had fun, every day.


These hints owe a huge debt to the Special Libraries Association Fellows and in particular Dan Trefethen and Susan Klopper, who created a First Timers’ Package for the Los Angeles SLA International Conference in June 2002. Adapted from the article The Savvy Conference-Goer Does SLA by Dan Trefethen which originally appeared in an issue of Interface, the bulletin of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of SLA.


This article was originally published in New Jersey Municipalities magazine. Vol. 86, No. 6, June 2009

 

 

 

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