I’ve been attending conferences and seminars ever since I was a postgraduate student doing research in Ancient History/Classics, even at that early stage I started co-organising seminar series and a conference that resulted in a book. Taking a leap from being a student wrapped up in a subject I was fascinated in, to becoming a full time working person attending a ‘work’ based event, was actually a bit of a jump. For a start I felt that I was coming into the subject/conference not fully aware of all the ins and outs, and who was who, and what did I actually think about these topics. Well, obviously I was there to learn, and to decide what I thought about these issues (which were probably newer to me than the social life of women in 5th century Athens – not my research subject but I probably had a better handle on it than I did anything to do with librarianship at the start). But gradually knowledge increases.
I have yet to attend Umbrella, though this year I did follow it on Twitter (thanks to cpd23); last year I attended the Cataloguing and Indexing Group conference, which I found really interesting, and great to be at an event with lots of other cataloguers (Yayyy!). Within Wales we have our annual WHELF/HEWIT colloquium at Gregynog (in Powys) (for library staff working in higher education institutions). This is a good place to start ‘conferencing’ as you are more likely to know someone (or at least have a bunch of colleagues with you), and for several years now there has been a ‘young/new professionals’ stream, so an ideal place to start presenting too.
Attending a conference can be nerve-wracking, it helps if you have a colleague attending with you – though this is often not possible.
I try to remind myself that other people are shy and nervous too (although they often don’t seem it), so if I have to walk into a room/conference on my own, I will try to see if there is someone else on their own, and will go and join them and strike up a conversation – start with the basics – where are you from/where do you work etc (although I believe I did once bore someone stupid as I forced conversation on them for what seemed an eternity as I could see no way out, until the dinner bell rang – so perhaps you might want to avoid me!)
As you might have guessed I don’t find these kind of social events easy.
Giving a presentation at an event, apart from being great for your professional development etc, is also a good conversation starter, as people will usually come up to you and talk about your presentation, and you often make good contacts this way. Maybe they are working on something similar, or have a similar problem at work, and your ideas might have given them a fresh viewpoint on the subject. Or maybe you just entertained them. Whatever, it is a good feeling to know that you have reached other people.
Or maybe you just evoked their sympathy… the last presentation I gave (at Gregynog last year), was on the first afternoon of the conference, and there was a technical hitch; somehow a virus had got on to the computer/laptops that were being used for the presentations – this had caused quite a few problems prior to my talk, but when it got to me, that was it, my powerpoint would not run. Despite everyone’s best efforts I was left with 3o mins to talk in, and no pretty pictures to distract people with! I was gutted, not the least because I had spent hours getting my presentation together. I gave the talk, almost through gritted teeth (trying not to cry); and was thankful in many ways that I had done an ‘old-fashioned’ kind of talk – it was all written down as I have yet to master the technique of free talking round the presentation. So, old-fashioned scripted talk got me through; but wasn’t half as interesting without all the images.
So, sympathy works – but I wouldn’t recommend it! I also played a part in the Murder Mystery event later in the conference – now that got people talking! So, dressing up and talking in a silly voice works….ok, now I’m getting a bit carried away. I think what I am trying to suggest is – get involved, give a paper/presentation, help out with the entertainment, help out on the registration desk, and if you are shy this will help give you those inroads into conversations that can be almost as vital as the presentations you attend. [Think that is called NETWORKING].
For my next trick…
I’ve been thinking for awhile that I’d really like to organise an event for cataloguers in Wales – we don’t get out much, but I am sure we have a lot to share/offer. So, cpd23 resolution for September – I will make that event happen!
(Any cataloguers in Wales out there interested? (or from just over the borders, I don’t mind) even just a sharing of practices, special projects, or worries about RDA???)