Keeping the conference and SLA vibrant – James King, Chapter Cabinet Chair candidate

Question 2: What changes, if any, do we need to make to keep annual conference as a vibrant, well attended event?

To answer how I think we should work to keep the association and the conference vibrant, I would like to step back and focus on the overall goals of the conference.  If we didn’t have a conference, would anyone miss it?  Typical measures of a successful conference are profit/loss and attendance however I believe that the ultimate measure is whether an attendee felt like it was worth their time and expense to attend. Therefore, I believe that one of the key ingredients to a successful SLA conference is networking, especially strategic networking. An HBR article points out three interdependent forms of networking: operational, personal, and strategic.

As the article points out, operational and personal come most easily to us but strategic or future-oriented networking is the key to tomorrow.  I view strategic networking as purposely placing ourselves in environments where we have the chance to connect with others in and around our profession who are doing excellent work, with an eye towards changing the future.  These connections can be made through a session speaker that addresses a current problem or during one of the many receptions and social gatherings held during the conference.  The conference encourages broad networking through the diversity of division programming which is helpful since innovation happens at the intersections of different disciplines and we don’t really know what our professional future holds.  For example, one of my far flung network connections from many years ago ultimately became my boss.

The first component of a SLA conference strategic networking emphasis is setting the environment for networking.  I believe that the SLA Fellows have been quietly helping to do this for many years by welcoming and networking with first time conference attendees.  As a member of this year’s SLA Fellows conference planning committee (along with Kate Arnold, Leoma Dunn and Marlene Vogelsang), we’re doing several things to help foster an environment this year:

  • Updated the “tip sheet” for first time attendees and made it available online
  • Shared those tips directly with the hundreds of first timers in advance of the conference
  • Mentoring at the Fellows & First Timers Meet & Greet (Marriott Coronado, Sat. 5-6pm)

The second component is fostering one-on-one and small group connections.  Our profession and membership are rich with experience and we must find ways to not only help the seasoned members to “give back” but to also help the newer members to feel “at home” and connected.  During the Fellows speed mentoring, we’re doing everything we can to make the initial introductions so that at least some of the meetings could grow into professional relationships.  In fact, the Fellows are exploring ways to do even more in this area (more to come later).

Though useful, simply relaying facts and lessons learned result in a ‘transactional’ mindset which can be obtained via a webinar, not a deeper connectedness to the SLA “family”.  If we desire increased volunteerism and satisfaction with the association, we must have a strategic networking mindset that ensures that everything we do builds a foundation of connectedness and community through relationships.  I also believe that strengthening our community building skills will not only help our association, but they can also “port” back to our profession, our organizations and ultimately into our personal lives.  At my day job, I’ve bridged information skills with my understanding of my customer’s needs to become an “evangelist” and community builder for tools and technologies like Drupal that are growing in importance.

As social creatures, we all seek meaningful relationships so learning how to more effectively build and maintain those relationships can impact every area of our lives.


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