If you've never attended an ICMA conference before, it can be an intimidating experience. Especially if you are traveling alone! Here are some tips I learned from attending my first conference in Seattle last year.
Relax and have a good time
I took my first conference way too seriously. I tried to cram in as many sessions as I possibly could, and I ended up stressed trying to navigate my way around the conference center and make it to the sessions on time. I'm not saying that you should treat it as a vacation, but definitely build in some down time. As an introvert, I found it especially draining to be around crowds of people for the entire day. If that's true for you too, remember that it's okay to withdraw for a while! Take some time to enjoy the city or head back to your hotel for a nap (my personal favorite). Did you know that Kansas City has more fountains than anywhere in the world except Rome? See how many you can spot!
Focus on a few topics that interest you
Start with the opening general session and plan your time from there. In every time slot there are many sessions running concurrently, so it's impossible to go to each one. Visit the online schedule or use the conference app to mark any session that you're attracted to. If more than one session in a time slot looks interesting, flag the one you want to go to first. That way you have an outline for which sessions to prioritize. If you are in a session that just isn't holding your attention, hop on over to the next one!
Build your network
Some of the most interesting parts of last year's conference were not the sessions, but the conversations that happened outside of the sessions. Arrive a little early, sit next to someone you don't know and introduce yourself! If you'd like to get to know the person better, give him or her your business card (don't forget to bring a big stack.) Last year I actually forgot to bring cards, but I ordered some online at the nearest Staples for $10 and Ubered there! It was well worth the price to not have to scribble my name down on a scrap piece of paper.
Hang out on the hashtag
Follow the conference hashtag (#ICMA2016) on Twitter, check out ICMA's Facebook page, stop by LinkedIn, and visit Instagram to see what other conference attendees are doing. Reading the posts helps you scout out potential connections, and if you're sharing content regularly, you'll become a familiar face to others! I'll be sharing my experience (from a Next Generation Leader's point of view) using the hashtag #NextUp - check it out.
Remember, make the annual conference work for you!