One of the most important aspects of attending SEAHO (outside of gleaning knowledge from the presentations to impact your practice) is networking! Like most pieces of conference attendance, there is a right way and a wrong way to network. In the last blog post, Katie talked about getting connected with people at the start and end of presentation sessions and meeting people who are not connected with your institution. Now, let’s talk more about ways to be an effective networker when you are at SEAHO!
As you are preparing to go to Mobile in a few weeks, think about what your networking plan will be. Will your struggles be more with disconnecting from those at your current institution or will it be walking up to a stranger and striking up conversation during downtime? Spending some time now thinking through how you can network effectively will make a world of difference once you get to Mobile and see all 500+ people together in one location! The first aspect of networking effectively is to be mindful in how you are spending your time and what you want those interactions to look like. Be your authentic self! It is obvious when people are basically walking around just trying to hand out business cards and when people are genuinely engaged in the conversation. Take the time to learn about that person in the same way you would want your RAs to interact with their residents. Be mindful in how you portray yourself at all times, from the Newcomer’s Meeting to the Closing Luncheon. Make new friends, sit at different tables with different people, and break up from those you already know. SEAHO is built on relationships and this is the best way to connect with like-minded colleagues (and potentially future employers!). Part of this also means that if you make some good connections, follow-up with them after the conference! I got a note in the mail from a friend I made at SEAHO last year and it made my day. Connections don’t just have to end when you leave to return to your institution.
In addition to the colleague-to-colleague networking, the other incredibly important piece is networking with vendors. When I attended my first SEAHO, I found it to be incredibly intimidating to walk around and talk with the vendors. You may be asking yourself, “Why would vendors even want to talk to me? I don’t have buying power!” There are two parts to that answer: 1) You have the unique opportunity to ask questions without sounding silly. Those at SEAHO, including our vendors, want to help you learn about various parts of on-campus housing, so use this to your advantage. Being a graduate student at this conference is an opportunity to learn more about the how and why of a company. If you are unsure or think it might be a dumb question, ask anyway! The vendors LOVE talking about their products and answering any question you may have. 2) While you may not currently have buying power, you do have influence… and you will have buying power some day! I have had some negative interactions with vendors at conferences in the past and I have been able to voice those concerns to those in higher authority at my institution when it came time for us to make purchases for renovations, furniture, etc. You may also be able to assist with smaller renovations projects on campus during your graduate experience, so being knowledgeable about what is currently on the market will be helpful. Also, it helps you to stay informed on what is “up and coming” in the various facets of residence halls (especially furniture, you can test out some pretty cool chairs each year). Get outside of your comfort zone and learn more about the facilities side of the house and start building relationships with vendors too! There are a number of people that come to SEAHO year after year, including vendors, so this is a great way to start building a relationship with people who you may get to end up seeing for years to come. If you are nervous about walking around with the vendors, ask your Pro (which means you should do Pro/Am!) or a full-time staff member at your institution if you could walk with them to see what those interactions are like.
Networking is a great way to make sure that you have a positive SEAHO experience, so as a final reminder, make sure you are thinking through now what you want that to look like in a way that is genuine for you.