People attend professional conferences for a number of reasons. Whether you are attending your first conference or your 30th, goals are important. Professional growth and renewal through educational sessions and networking opportunities are desired outcomes for all of us. It’s easy to get sidetracked, though, if you haven’t defined what you want to accomplish.

Gather your tools 

Bring plenty of business cards for networking purposes. If you don’t have a job that supplies these, most office supply stores and copy centers can print some for you. Several good online services can also provide professional business cards in high volume fairly inexpensively.

Update your résumé or curriculum vitae, even if you aren’t planning to participate in the on-site interview program. (But if you are, bring plenty of copies with you!) You never know when a chance meeting could turn into an interesting opportunity. Copy your résumé, research papers, syllabi and pictures of the kids (in case you run into a long-lost friend from graduate school) onto a thumb drive that you can slip into your pocket or briefcase. That way you won’t have to scramble to locate someone back home who can access and e-mail you a copy over the weekend.

Good walking shoes are essential, and planning your wardrobe in layers for meeting rooms that are too warm or too cool will only add to your personal comfort. Also pack some protein bars or other healthy snacks, a water bottle, something to write on, something to write with and a couple of highlighters.

Your wardrobe in Hawaii

Because this year’s American Counseling Association Conference & Exposition is in a resort area, you will probably see a lot of “Aloha-wear.” For most, business casual (including fun Hawaiian shirts) will rule. But if you are planning to interview for positions in the Career Center, recognize that some employers may expect a more professional appearance. Also bear in mind that “hot and humid” describes the climate, so light, natural fibers are recommended.

Spend some time with the Program Guide

After you’ve arrived at the conference site, check in at the registration desk. Be sure to pick up your complimentary tote bag and take some time to look through it.

Pay particular attention to the Program Guide, and look for the addendum, as well — there are always additions and changes to the program after printing deadlines have passed. You’ll also want to watch for the Conference Daily, which contains last-minute schedule changes and other tidbits and is distributed each morning during the conference.

Plan your time

On your first run through the Program Guide, put a check mark next to any of the programs that sound interesting and a star next to anything that you think is a “must-attend” session. Your second time through, prioritize your choices. It’s a good idea to have a second choice in mind, just in case the session you plan to attend is too crowded or has been canceled. After identifying the programs and other activities you want to attend, put together a schedule.

Get the lay of the land

Time your route from your hotel room to the conference site, and be sure to add a little extra time for congested elevators. Find all the amenities you might need, such as coffee carts, restrooms, business center and restaurants. Hop on the shuttle bus and figure out how to get from place to place.

Head over to the Exhibit Hall and check out products and services that are especially designed for counselors. The ACA Bookstore, the Career Center, and ACA Professional Affairs and Member Services all have areas within the Exhibit Hall as well. This is also where Poster Sessions are presented.

Take notes

One of the best suggestions I’ve ever heard for professional meetings is to use a two-page note-taking technique. The right-hand page is for keeping notes from what is said, and the left-hand page is for jotting down ideas for implementation once you return to normal life.

Have fun!

Don’t plan every minute. Pace yourself and enjoy the experience. Treat yourself to a nice dinner with colleagues, time on the beach or a rejuvenating spa appointment.

Summarize and follow up

At the end of the conference, it’s helpful to prepare a summary for your files. What did you take away that was personally or professionally stimulating? What professional contacts did you make that you would like to maintain? Where did you stay? Where did you have a great dinner? How much did you spend? (This is particularly helpful when budgeting for next year’s conference.)

Professional conferences are among the best venues for networking and professional growth if you are prepared for the opportunity. See you in Honolulu!

Amy Reece Connelly is the manager of ACA Career Services. E-mail questions or request telephone consultation by contacting her at