Now that #NACE16 is upon us, I found myself reminiscing last night. As part of the NACE Executive Board, I had a number of preconference commitments, and it was during the course of some of these interactions that I realized that this is the 15th anniversary of my very first NACE conference back in 2001 in Las Vegas! After absorbing that fact, I also realized that I was literally having cocktails with the three ladies who helped to make my first conference an experience that I remember vividly to this day.
I remember feeling very lost at the opening reception. It was a sea of people, almost none of whom I knew. I felt a little intimidated and a bit lonely (or at least as lonely as you can feel in a crowd of 2,000 plus people!). At that moment, someone tapped me on the my shoulder and said “You look like this might be your first time here…”. When I turned around, I was greeted by a woman with a huge smile who introduced herself as Vanessa Strauss (who would soon become the president of NACE). I responded that yes, this was indeed my first conference, and I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to do next! She laughed, took my arm, and led me over to a group of people surrounding the front podium of the reception area, and she told me that she wanted to introduce me to Kathy Sims from UCLA, the (then) current NACE president. A long conversation ensued where I was welcomed as both a new conference attendee and a relatively new member of NACE. Both Vanessa and Kathy went out of their way to introduce me to several other members over the course of the week, which helped provide me with connections that I value to this day.
Flash forward another decade of so…..Kathy and Vanessa had been urging me for years to volunteer time with NACE, and truth be told, I fought off these overtures for years. They eventually wore me down though (they’re quite an effective tag team!), and I remember getting the call from Vanessa herself that I had been selected to serve on the Board of Directors. How fitting it was that one of the people that helped get me started on my NACE journey was delivering this happy news! And when the news became public, Kathy was one of the first to call with her congratulations, thus completing the circle.
Going back to Vegas…..My organization planned a fun university relations event for a small group of career center personnel at a nearby art exhibit. While I knew most of the attendees, this event afforded me some quality time with some particularly influential career center personnel. While there were several such individuals in attendance, I found myself drawn to the team from NYU, which was headed by Trudy Steinfeld. And while she and I talked for a couple of hours, it was amusing to me that we spoke very little about work! We talked baseball, living in NYC, our own college experiences, etc. When the event concluded, we didn’t just do the typical business card exchange; we actually made plans to meet up for happy hour a few weeks later in NYC.
From there, a wonderful friendship has bloomed. Trudy and I (and a large group of mutual friends) have shared cherished memories related to NACE activities, professional development opportunities, overseas trips, etc. When I am looking for professional advice, she is one of the first people I call for counsel, which says a lot.
Now that #NACE16 is ready for launch, I want to urge all of you newcomers out there (over 1,200 strong, at last count) to make the most of this first conference. Try doing these things: 1) Meet as many people as you can at the opening reception. Yes, it can feel pretty crazy, but remember that there a lot of people who have never done this before, so you’re not alone! 2) Attend the newcomer breakfast on Wednesday morning. You’ll get a chance to meet President-Elect Kathleen Powell and other NACE leaders who will be hosting the individual tables. They’ll answer your questions and talk about their experiences with our organization. 3) Don’t eat alone…..Don’t be afraid to sit at a lunch table filled with people you don’t know. Or to organize a group of people to grab dinner at one of Chicago’s many fine eateries.
Now get out there and network! You’ll be glad you did….