On the fence about attending the IABC Southern Region Conference? IABC Tulsa’s Sara Reynolds attended the Southern Region Conference in 2011 and shares her experience with us.
Picture this: New Orleans, 2011, Southern Region Conference. As a four year IABC member and three time conference veteran, I had this! My sessions were picked and my top restaurant choices for the dine-around selected before I even left Little Rock. It was time to rock this conference!
I arrived at the welcome reception and all of my preparation and nerve disappeared as quickly as the bananas foster was served to conference goers. I didn’t know anyone there. I was the only IABC/Arkansas delegate there. I was alone in a room full of people reconnecting with old friends, introducing each other to new friends and just having fun mingling.
Here is where I admit my big secret; I am actually quite shy unless forced to be otherwise and no one was forcing me to participate. So I went up to my room (after eating, of course) and got some rest. The next morning would be my morning. Seriously, it would.
The sun shone, the birds chirped and I found my nerve. I plopped down at a table of strangers at the breakfast keynote and made some friends. After three years, I don’t remember them, but, I swear, I made friends.
Sessions started, and I settled into a groove. It is easier to groove when you have planned activities. I breezed from session to session while making small talk with random people as I went. Then finally found someone I knew! Overcome with excitement, I attended Robin McCasland’s presentation “If You Really Loved Me: Foster Engagement with Social Media & Cultural Communications.”
Fighting back all of the questions in my head like, “what if she doesn’t remember me,” “what if I make a fool of myself,” and “what do I say that will remind her of who I am,” I steeled myself, walked up to her and said, “I don’t know if you remember me but I used to be the VP of Programming for the IABC/Fort Worth chapter. Two years ago, we invited you to speak at a half-day seminar but you had to send your husband while you dealt with an illness in your family.”
Relief washed over me as she broke into a big smile and said, “Of course I remember you, Sara! I still feel bad that I could not make it that day. How have you been?”
With that one question, I hit my stride. I actually felt like I belonged.
We chatted for a few minutes before and after her presentation. This was better than I hoped for. We caught up. Robin had started her own company. I had moved to Little Rock. I told her the sessions I planned to attend the next day. She suggested some people I should meet while at the conference (Shannon Frederick was definitely on the list). It was awesome.
Before we knew it, we both needed to get to the General Session.
Suzanne Salvo and Mark Schumann gave a great presentation, don’t get me wrong, but I paid very little attention to them. Instead, I was formulating a plan. A plan to get sound professional advice from a respected person who I simply liked – I was going to ask Robin to be my mentor.
After what seemed like three hours, Suzanne and Mark wrapped up their presentation. I spotted Robin in the room during the presentation so I knew exactly where to find her. Not too fast or I would be the first person to get to her. Not too slow as I don’t want her to get away without talking to me. I occupied myself with a pep talk as the pack of groupies surrounding Robin thinned. “It is flattering to ask someone to mentor you. She won’t laugh in your face. It is not an absurd thing to ask someone.”
I don’t remember the words I used. I don’t remember how I asked. But I was able to get my point across and she said yes. We quickly exchanged contact information and planned to schedule our mentoring sessions via email the next week.
Since that time, Robin advised me through some tough times. She taught me how to professionally deal with sticky situations at work. She taught me how to properly manage my manager. She even helped me through a job transition I was, at first, not happy about. We no longer have regularly scheduled sessions, what with her rather busy year of being IABC Chair and all, but I know the relationship is there and I can reach out to her if needed.
Oh, I would have gotten through the past few years without her, but I sure I came out on this side better with her help.
When people ask if they should attend a conference or what benefits conferences like this really provide, I tell them this story. I tell them I gained confidence and a mentor just by actively participating in the conference. I also tell them how I ended up on the board of IABC/Tulsa because of that conference, but that’s a story for another day.