June 18, 2018

I’ll Be There for You | Office Hours

Budgets are tight. For many, webinars and online conferences have been a primary professional development tool of late. Attending a keynote is as easy as sitting down at your desk and plugging in headphones. But when there is money for conference travel, how do we maximize the potential for learning and growth face to face (F2F)? What’s the value of F2F in a virtual, networked world?


Use the preliminary schedule to choose sessions, but be ready to change as preconference chatter inspires or new panels pop up. Be strategic. Consider which topics you know about and which you don’t. Choose sessions that enhance work in your current position, would help you in future jobs, and spark curiosity.

Be prepared. For students, here is where your virtual presence connects with the F2F one. Have updated profiles on popular social media sites and a card detailing contact info, graduation date, and interests. An elevator pitch comes in handy here.

On the Ground

All the planning in the world can’t save you from a presenter’s overreliance on wordy Powerpoint slides or a monotone reading from a script. Perhaps the session description is like a great trailer for a bad movie. Don’t be afraid to leave if it falls flat. Why do you think so many people sit at the end of the row?

Get out of your comfort zone for a session or two. Seek out the unusual: a speaker you don’t know or a topic that causes you to squirm. You might be surprised at the connections you make to your own work or the new avenues you find to explore. Use a bit of time to go local. Take tours and visit libraries. Is there an important museum or other attraction down the street? Inspiration for your own library service might be found there. Going with a group from the conference further enhances connections.

Bring your Inner EXTROVERT

Hurrah for those in the profession who are naturally extroverted. Conferences and meetings must be constant energizers. Webinars are perfect for those of us who mostly identify on the introvert side of the spectrum. We can listen, ask a question via text, and avoid interactions that might provoke discomfort.

F2F conferences present another squirm-inducing opportunity for growth, however. Talk to people you don’t know. You could go up and talk to anyone whose work/presentation interests you. Offer a compliment, or share how the work has inspired you. Sit with strangers; talk to them. The most worthwhile value of F2F is the networking and informal learning. Make connections with those sitting around you or seek out interactive sessions. You might meet someone new while intertwining fingers and extending arms to build a human bridge for others to pass under.

“I’m an introvert, I don’t do this,” I said while building the arm arch with Angela Maycock, manager of professional development at the Public Library Association. “Now you do,” she replied.

Note to conference organizers: bring more interactivity and engagement among participants into sessions to emphasize the value of being F2F.

Be There

If you can use and adapt this approach to F2F conferences, you may find that your networking has led to close connection with a diverse group of colleagues. You may only see them in person once or twice a year, but that’s where our online connections come into play. Use all the tools to stay in touch and then relish the F2F dinner, drinks, or museum tour at the next conference. Webinars and online meetings are excellent delivery mechanisms for information sharing and idea exchange. Let F2F cultivate the more human side of our professional connections.

This article was published in Library Journal's January 1, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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