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Some impressions from #SLA2014
June 19, 2014, 22:17
Filed under: Events | Tags: , , ,

Even though it has been almost two weeks since SLA’s 2014 conference ended I’m still trying to process my thoughts about it all. In the hope that writing something down about it might help, here are the top 10 impressions I took away from Vancouver.

pixelated whale from Vancouver conference centre

1. Vancouver is beautiful!
The views from the waterside conference centre were marvellous – snow-capped mountains, tree-clad hillsides, nautical traffic in and out of Vancouver harbour, seaplanes landing… Coming out of sessions to appreciate all this through the floor-to-ceiling windows was great – other events I’ve been to have taken place in much darker spaces, even underground, and I find the lack of daylight quite exhausting. I think that being able to see the sunshine, and easily step outside for some air, helped keep my energy levels up. Also, commenting on the view proved to be a great conversation-starter!

2. Senior members of SLA are really friendly and approachable.
I introduced myself to loads of people, sometimes in slightly peculiar situations (across a rubbish bin being probably the best of those) – I always got a polite response, and often something much warmer.

3. Being a first timer is brilliant.
Everyone makes a fuss of you, introduces themselves, asks how you’re finding it etc. I can imagine that subsequent conferences don’t feel nearly so special!

4. The Karaoke and IT Dance Party are justifiably legendary.
I went to both, more as an anthropological investigation than with any great sense of enthusiasm, and ended up having a thoroughly good time.

5. There are simply not enough hours in the day.
With sessions beginning at 8am and socials going on until midnight, plus of course the need to process business cards, send prompt LinkedIn invitations, check email, catch up on twitter, not to mention rehydrate, eat a decent breakfast and pre-load on coffee, the time available for sleep is severely curtailed.

6. Session-hopping is not for me.
Before the conference began many people advised me that leaving a session is perfectly acceptable. I’m sure this works really well for some, and perhaps it was just because the times I wanted to change sessions coincided with a low point energy-wise, but I found it impossible to tune in to the ones I entered part-way through so ended up leaving those too. This meant that most of the second morning was spent in a rather disjointed and less-than-wholly-productive way. (In the end I gave up and went for a walk and some coffee, which may have been a better use of my time anyway – I was certainly more alert afterwards!)

7. The Expo is not actually a scary place.
I have never been in a role which necessitated much in the way of talking to vendors (other than to chase up missing periodicals), but for Vancouver I had been tasked with not merely talking to a lot of them but trying to interest them in sponsoring a conference I’m involved with in NY this September. To begin with I had a mentor holding my hand (not literally!) and with her encouragement I quickly realised that it was pretty easy to strike up a conversation and get my message over whilst having a pleasant chat. I also learned a little about a number of products too – not immediately useful but still good to know.

8. Being part of a tribe is important.
Obviously the whole conference could be described in tribal terms, but what I mean here is that my experience was made much more comfortable by having a defined group of friends to hang out with. The SLA Europe group kindly allowed me to attach myself to them, and I really valued that – partly because they’re all delightful, but especially for the smaller reassuring things, like spotting a familiar face across a lecture room, having people to meet for coffee or drinks, sharing info about the various sessions we’d attended, being one of the group sporting England shirts/flags/stickers at the IT dance party… Of course I was also very happy to run into friends from New York and elsewhere, but somehow that sense of group attachment was missing in those interactions. (I’m planning to attend the conference in Boston next year, and will definitely be looking to create this kind of community feeling amongst the SLA NY attendees there.)

9. Trying to do everything without a break is crazy.
Sometimes it is necessary to go for a walk, get coffee and a doughnut, take some time out. Doing this without feeling bad about missing a cool-sounding session, being late for a reception or losing the chance for another networking opportunity felt hard initially, but common sense prevailed and there were several occasions when I quietly removed myself for a little while. And yes, I’m sure I did miss something whilst I was gone, but I returned with more energy for whatever came next on my schedule. The older I get the more clearly I see that I prefer fewer quality interactions to a lot of ineffectual ones – I would rather have the energy to focus fully on the sessions I do attend and network well in order make some lasting connections, not snooze in the back of the lecture theatre or speak to a hundred people who I’ll never remember – and this tactic helped me to achieve that!

10. Pick a good variety of sessions.
This time I was fortunate in that I didn’t have any particular work-related obligations, so I could attend a completely random mix of topics. In future I would hope to get as close as possible to repeating this – the programme is so varied that it would be a shame to miss out on at least some of the riches on offer.

This can all be summarised in one short sentence: SLA conference is awesome! (And I mean that in the traditional sense of the word.) Huge kudos to the organising committee – I’m currently working on a one-day conference with a much smaller expo and that takes up enough of my time, so I can only imagine how much work they must put in.

I’m currently finishing off a brief list of the sessions I attended, and will probably blog some longer write-ups over the next few weeks. (I’ve also been busy over on my other blog, trying to finish writing about the holiday we took en route to Vancouver – we put together a whistle-stop tour of Chicago, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver itself, in part via trains on the Lake Shore Ltd and Cascades railway lines. It was all great fun but I’m not sure I’d recommend this kind of trip pre-conference!)

Oh, and one final piece of advice (to myself if no-one else) – if you have long way to travel, getting the red-eye flight home immediately after conference is a really stupid idea. The exhaustion hit me on the way to the airport but I barely slept on the flight, which meant that the following morning found me trying to negotiate US customs and immigration in a state of tiredness so profound that I could barely speak. I don’t think I’ve ever been so non-functional (at least when sober, which I most certainly was!). Then of course it took me several days to recover from it all. It would have been completely worth spending an extra night in Vancouver then flying home the next day, I could even have used the flight to write up all my notes…

my Vancouver conference badge

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