First Time at AACRAO?

April 2, 2019
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
  • Professional Well-Being
Male speaker at the front of a room with seven panelists seated at a table next to him

by Christopher Rooney, Manager, Operations and Client Services, Trent University

One by one people made their way up the stairs, around the corner, and through the large, gray doors of room 411. The theatre style room, reminiscent of a lecture hall found on campuses throughout the country, offered soft, sunken chairs, perfect for learning about how to maximize this experience. Some took shelter behind phones, laptops, and tablets, while others sat, glancing and smiling, probably wondering who in this room they might meet this week. It felt a little bit like the first day of class, which wasn’t far off.

The session, titled "First Time at AACRAO? Get Past the Jitters of Being New and Feel Empowered to Network and Build Relationships," provided first time attendees at the Annual Meeting with adaptable skills for networking and navigating the conference in front of them.

With Jerry Montag from Northern Illinois University, as the Master of Ceremonies, a panel of AACRAO members, many of them first-time attendees at last year’s Annual Meeting, shared their experiences. The anecdotes and advice were delivered with authenticity and enthusiasm as, one by one, the panelists told their stories.

Jill Megredy, of Bethany College, encouraged the crowd to look at name tags and to start conversations with strangers. Jenny Primm, from the University of Colorado Boulder, inspired people to put the proverbial laptops away and be present at the conference. Jennifer Love, from the University of Texas at Austin, touted the career opportunities that can be found within the organization. And Carrie Widdowson, from Messiah College, recommended joining existing groups of people at a session, event, or just out at the hotel.

As stories were told people could be seen sitting more upright in their chairs, leaning in towards the front of the room, and looking around at their newfound colleagues. The phone and tablet shields slowly lowering to reveal smiles and stares as the helpful advice rolled on.  

Debbie Giron, from New Mexico State University provided three tips for networking success; get to know five new people each day, make notes about them for better follow up conversation, and use the ‘first time attendee’ tag as an ice breaker. Tracy Kurzy, from Irell and Manella Graduate School at City of Hope, emboldened the crowd to find someone, sit next to them, and start a conversation. While Hana Gad delivered an acronym for using the letters FIRST, that provided a playbook for networking success.

Interestingly, many of the panelists self-identified as introverts, citing AACRAO as one of the things that helped give them the confidence to get up in front of a crowd. The panel delivered a message, loud and clear, that networking is for everyone at the Annual Meeting and that the first-time attendees were in good hands.