On the QT | The Official Newsletter of GWA August-September 2016 | Page 8

HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CONFERENCE BY C.L. FORNARI • • • • Going to a conference is an investment of time and money, so you might wonder if attending the GWA Conference & Expo will give you a good return on that outlay. If you’re a garden geek, you will, of course, have a great time. Plant People-R-Us! But if you’re a garden communicator who wants to advance your business professionally and financially, some strategic planning is in order. Here are some ideas for making any conference work for furthering your career. IN ADVANCE • Start a conference file on your computer or tablet and note some things you’d like to take away from this event. Refer back to these notes just before and during the meeting. • If you have specific professional goals, look at the schedule of talks with those in mind. Mark talks that sound useful and note the person 8 who is presenting that session. Write that person’s name in your file so that even if you don’t hear the talk or connect with the presenter at the meeting, you will have it in your files. • There are many ways these conferences can advance your work, but the three prime areas are networking, horticultural information and skills building. Plan to attend talks that will cover all three areas. Networking will serve you in the future as GWA members assist and refer work to each other. Increasing our plant and garden knowledge keeps us fresh and up to date. And when you become a better speaker, writer or photographer you’re more likely to be hired for the jobs you’d like to do. • Before the conference, contact your regional representatives to briefly explain your career goals and ask which GWA members you might try to connect with. Email those suggested in advance and ask to set up a coffee or break meeting to pick their brains. AT THE CONFERENCE • Add notes to your GWA2016 file throughout AFTER THE CONFERENCE & EXPO • Shoot off emails to the companies who provided product samples and plants at the trade show. These Allied Trade members will serve you well in years to come, so develop relationships with them. Be sure to let them know if you write, speak or blog about their products and plants later. • Send an email or tweet to those you spoke with just to cement connections. Connect with them on social media. If they’ve offered to assist you in the future, don’t hesitate to contact them with a gentle reminder if they don’t follow through. It’s certainly possible to attend a conference without any advance planning or a specific agenda, and you’ll undoubtedly have a wonderful time. With some preparation, however, and a bit of record keeping, you’ll build a scaffold of support, information and inspiration that will be both a ladder and support for years to come. GWA member C.L. Fornari is an author, speaker, radio host, and professional plant pusher who gardens on Poison Ivy Acres on Cape Cod. Her website is www. GardenLady.com PHOTO COURTESY KIRK BROWN (Left to right) Debra Prinzing, Carol Michel, Kevin Gragg, Dee Nash and Ellen Zachos met up at the GWA Annual Symposium in Pittsburgh in 2014. the event. Record names of people you spoke with, plants you brought home and ideas that were triggered. A conference is such a jam-packed event that you shouldn’t leave it to chance that you’ll remember everything. Build your own tribe: use the dinner sign-up board to get to know other newbies. Many GWA members find the people they connect with in the earliest symposiums become part of their steadfast network later. Let serendipity work for you: Sit with a different person on the bus each time. Sit next to someone new at most meals. Write down their names. Don’t be afraid to approach the people you think have achieved what you would like to attain. GWA members are very generous with ideas and support. Be memorable. Business cards get lost, but having a personal conversation or buying someone a drink makes a more lasting impression. Be open to change and opportunity: Like a garden, a career as a garden communicator evolves over time. You may start the conference saying, “I want to grow this,” but end up thinking, “Perhaps I could grow that too!”