Jenny Beth Johnson: Getting the most out of a conference

By Jenny Beth Johnson. Posted November 22, 2013.

This past month, I had the honor of presenting my research topic of consumer socialization at the International Textile and Apparel Association’s (ITAA) annual conference located in New Orleans, Louisiana.  ITAA is the primary professional research organization for educators focusing on textiles, apparel, and merchandising strategies.

ITAA Conference
UNL Graduate Student Adrienne Anderson’s “Fight or Flight”
presented at ITAA’s Annual Conference 2013.

This experience was my first as a conference presenter and attendee, and I was driven to take in everything that the conference had to offer.  I found that the following points helped me gain the most from my conference experience and could help you when preparing to attend or present at a conference.

  • Be prepared.  It is difficult to be fully prepared for a conference when traveling to a new destination.  I found that my carry-on suitcase was filled to the brim, along with an overweight computer briefcase.  Despite airline restrictions, however, I had to prepare to present myself as not only an organization member, but as a presenter.  Just to present, I had a computer, power cord, a wireless “clicker” to advance the slides of my presentation, copies of my PowerPoint presentation in case of technical difficulties, copies of my resume, and a stack of business cards.  Every element in the list was needed and I was thankful to have those materials on hand.
  • Network with other graduate students, educators, and professionals.  Walk up to someone new and generate a conversation.  Most people at the conference are there to disseminate research and make connections, thus conversations are very easy-going and welcoming.  If a particular research topic of interest is presented, speak to the presenter, give out your business card, and tell him or her why you are interested in the topic.  I met many interesting, inspirational people at the conference, which reemphasized the idea that so much information can be gleaned from others if we are open to it.
  • Attend other research lectures.  You never know when a topic of interest will present itself.  At the ITAA conference, I found myself enthralled in a lecture about using Pinterest to teach in the classroom.  My creative juices started flowing, and I found myself preparing undergraduate assignments based on the presenter’s methodology.  I also gained much insight into theories, methodologies, and sampling strategies used in my field of study.  Since the ITAA also supports fashion design, I got to take in an amazing fashion show where one of my peers, Adrienne Anderson from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, got to present her innovative design.
  • Take opportunities.  I was nervous to present my research in front of a group of highly experienced researchers.  However, I knew that disseminating my research was important to adding to the body of knowledge on the topic and to advancing my own career.  I was surprised to find that giving my presentation was actually fun and yielded very interesting and complementary questions and comments.  I can’t wait to present at an ITAA conference in the future!

Before I attended the ITAA conference, I thought it would be an intimidating and stressful environment.  Through my experience, however, I found that a professional organization is a supportive community that not only forms to advance the industry of interest, but also comes together to encourage one another.