Tips and Tricks

NAFSA First-Timer: My Conference Essentials

San Diego Convention Center

My very first NAFSA conference is in the books, and I had a fantastic experience. While it was great, it can sometimes be overwhelming. That’s why I decided to share some tips on what essentials are an absolute must when preparing for a NAFSA conference and how to make the most out of the days you have there. (Disclaimer: Not every conference will be in a location as beautiful as San Diego, but I sure enjoyed it while it lasted!)

Comfortable Shoes
You will hear this over and over, but it really is going to make a huge difference having comfortable shoes. I wear a Jawbone Up band so I was able to track my steps and… wait for it… I walked between 7 and 14 miles per day! So you will clearly be walking quite a bit every day and comfortable shoes can make all the difference.

Phone Case Charger Battery Pack
Especially for you social media gurus out there, phone battery life runs out quick. There are charging stations all around the conference center, but you can’t beat just being able to press a button and charge your phone wherever you are. I ordered my case right off of Amazon for $16.99, but there are a bunch of different kinds out there that you can choose from.

Take People Notes
You are going to meet tons of new people throughout the conference and will likely end up with a big stack of business cards by the end. These can be a major headache to go through all at one time when trying to remember who’s who, where you met them, and what you talked about. As soon as you can, take the chance to step away for a moment and write some notes on the back of the business card of the person you just met. This is going to make those conference follow ups so much easier and will help you remember people better when crossing paths again down the road!

Choose Sessions on Less Familiar Topics
It can be tough deciding which sessions to attend, especially when there are so many good ones overlapping at the same time. My suggestion is that you choose the session that you may not know as much about. Going to a session that is on your area of expertise could just end up being really boring for you where you hear a lot of information that you already know. You could gain a lot more by going to a session that focuses on an area you are not as familiar with. For example, I went to a session on students with disabilities studying abroad and learned a TON! I really enjoyed being able to learn more about a subject area that I do not have as much experience with.

Between meetings, walking through the expo hall, and even meeting people in the hallways, you do a LOT of talking. (Side note: schedule in breaks to fill up your water bottle because you will need it!) Bask in the conversation, keep up the enthusiasm, and enjoy all the new people you meet that may even turn into close friends! With that said, it also doesn’t hurt to take a breather and step outside whenever you find a few spare minutes in your schedule.

Have more tips to add to the list? Share in the comments!

San Diego Bay


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  • Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats
    June 15, 2014 at 3:52 am

    I had to look up what NAFSA stood for:) I have been to so many professional conferences over the past decade that I’ve lost count, but these are some good tips for attending conferences. I like the one about choosing some on topics you know less about as I tend to attend similar presentations where I know people or know a lot about the topic, but I learn more when I attend more diverse presentations.

    • Marissa Sutera
      June 15, 2014 at 8:14 am

      Thanks Jessica! It’s always a struggle to choose between sessions, but I really enjoyed the ones that I did not know much about. It’s great to learn about a new area of the field!

    June 11, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Great tips for any type of conference


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