My aim for SLA2013 was to make the most of every opportunity for networking. The main reason I wanted to attend an SLA conference was for the opportunity to meet people. People have always been the highlight of professional events that I’ve attended before. The times for networking are usually my favourite times at any conference. It is a great opportunity to catch up with old acquaintances, and former colleagues, as well as a chance to meet many new people. Armed with a stack of business cards and my best smile I tried my best to throw myself into the conference.
I’m not afraid of meeting new people and usually thrive at networking events. However I’ll admit that I went to bed on the first night feeling deflated and anxious that I wasn’t the right person to be at the conference. A classic case of letting my own confidence levels take a hit because of the overwhelming scale of the task. The first day was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, which weren’t helped by jetlag. I spent most of the Saturday exploring San Diego on my own before attending a first timer reception, followed by the Business and Finance Awards reception. The first day on your own in a new city is always a tough one. Thankfully the first timer reception was a great icebreaker and I met a number of people who would become great conference friends. The Business and Finance Division event was great because it was nice to be recognised by the division and the number of people congratulating me was overwhelming. Everyone was wonderful however I felt a little lost at sea, unsure how best to introduce myself to people and found it hard to work out what best to talk about. As a result I went to bed that night feeling worried about being cut out for surviving the conference. Ultimately though I need not have worried because everyone at the conference was so very friendly, welcoming and ready for conversation.
The noticeable thing about the SLA conference was how willing people were to engage with everyone regardless of background or level of experience. At SLA people are equal. People are valued. I can’t recall any occasion at the conference where I felt inferior or less worthy of my place in the conversation. What I do have is many memories of occasions where people at the top were happy to engage with newcomers like myself. Hierarchy is not a driving force. SLA CEO Janice Lachance sat at my table during a lunch break. SLA Europe board members invited me to join drinks in the bar each night.
One of the most important set of relationships I developed during the conference was with my fellow ECCA winners. We helped each other navigate the vast conference experience. We bonded over food, drinks and baseball games. We shared new experiences and reflected on our different pasts. I learnt with them. I learnt from them. I’m still learning from them. Reading the blog posts written by fellow ECCA winners continues to bring new perspectives and challenge my viewpoints on the conference and the profession.