Parks and recreation conferences are great for the industry, in many ways. Not only do they help bring like-minded people together to discuss ideas and best practices, they also aim to develop the industry, as well as the many incredible parks and recreation professionals who attend.
The best conferences will have many opportunities for attendees to network, learn, share and support. Many parks and recreation professionals visit on a regular basis but, for a first-time attendee, the whole experience might be a little overwhelming. Here are some tips to make the most of your parks and recreation conference experience.
Determine Your Purpose
Figure out what you want out of the conference. For some, it may be to find other passionate people or potential employees. For others, it may be to learn from workshops. Some may get the most out of networking events, while others are there to research exhibitors and their products. Many parks and recreation professionals also have conservation as their organization’s biggest focus. Figuring out your needs and making a list of what you want to get out of the conference will help guide your decision making, when you start planning out your experience.
Some parks and recreation conferences, such as the NRPA, are massive. With the high number of attendees, workshops, speaking engagements and exhibitors, you may not be able to visit everything you want to. After determining the primary purpose of your attendance, refer to the materials provided by the conference and plan out your day(s). Factor in any necessary travel times, leave some room for spontaneity, and don’t forget to schedule yourself some breaks.
Talk to people and learn how other parks and recreation organizations deal with their set of local challenges and opportunities. Attending the extra-curricular events can be an excellent way to do this. Creating long-term relationships with distinguished professionals and peers can be instrumental in long-term success within the industry. For younger professionals or job seekers, finding a mentor is key. There are plenty of opportunities to do so; some conferences may even have a program to sign up for.
Simplify What You've Learnt
People new to industry conferences may be surprised by how quickly they can get overwhelmed by the wealth of information and events to attend. Focusing on one concept or area of interest per day or session can help reduce information overload. Figure out what that concept or idea is at the beginning of the day and let that guide your schedule. The key is to think about how you can implement what you’ve learned into your work and daily life. Do you work in communications? Tailor your sessions towards speakers who gravitate towards public relations and external relationship building. Are you a program director? Find the events geared towards class ideas, leadership and industry trends.
Make the Most of It!
There are so many invaluable resources available at parks and recreation conferences to take advantage of. Some conferences may have so much going on that it would be impossible to see it all. These conferences tend to give you supplementary materials, recordings and electronic handouts for you to utilize. Share these with your team back home!
Other events have a more streamlined approach where talks don’t overlap and the schedule sticks to a focused theme. Where larger associations often have events that cater to a wider audience of parks and recreation organizations, small groups or mini-conferences are often dedicated to one specific area or topic.
Event attendees are there for a reason. If someone nominated you to attend, that means they see potential in your parks and recreation career. Make the most of it and learn what you can; the passion events can instill in attendees is priceless.