By: Taveesha Guyton, Social Worker, Future CAS
In July, I was an attendee of the Autism Society National Conference held in the beautiful city of New Orleans, Louisiana. I am a social worker who specializes in working with the intellectually disabled and autism community. When the opportunity arose for me to not only go to New Orleans, a city I have admired for many years, but also attend a conference I professionally attached too, I became Super Man, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”!
Here, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, being exposed to this community of people, who like myself, associate themselves either professionally or personally to world of autism. I was able to network with those individuals who work in behavioral health, such as IBCCES, who established the industry standards for the Certified Autism Specialist and Autism Certificate. These credentials ensure that professionals remain current and up-to-date in the field of autism.
So how does one survive their first conference?
- Volunteer– Many conferences are expensive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t attend. If you can volunteer for the conference which peaks your interest both professionally and personally, DO IT. It allows one to see the in’s and out’s of how a conference operates, plus volunteering looks good on any resume. However, like attendees, volunteers are responsible for their own accommodations.Organizations such as www.autismsociety.org fill up fast with people who want to volunteer, so sign up as soon as possible.
- Check surrounding areas for affordable hotels- Most conferences have a designated hotel. Usually, the hotel offers discounts to those who are attending the conference. Depending on what your pockets are looking like, one may have to venture into other hotels closer to the conference if funding is an issue. This is another item that needs to be researched prior to going to volunteer, especially if the conference is out-of-state. Use sites such as www.kayak.com or www.hotels.com for exclusive deals.
- Network, Network, Network- I cannot stress this enough, especially if this a conference where one relates to professionally, or one wants to move up or network toward their next career move. It is important to position one-self with those in the industry. You never know who you will meet, so bring your business cards. Sites like www.vistaprint.com and www.moo.com help quickly create business cards and other advertisements, or check for your local printer in your city or town.
- Find things to do in the visiting city– Usually a conference is a few days and between the hours of 9-5. So,what does one do after they have in break out sessions all day? Find something to do. Even better, find activities that you can incorporate networking! I was in New Orleans, so places like Bourbon Street offered many options. It is helpful if one researches things to do before the conference, and discount activity sites can make playing tourist affordable: www.groupon.com and www.livingsocial.com.
- After, it’s all said and done, recap the experience, take it all in and sign-up to do another conference.