7 Reasons to Attend a Conference

As part of my responsibilities as co-chair of the 2018 NFPW Conference, I wrote several articles promoting the conference. One of them was a list of 10 reasons to come to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the conference is being held.

I should have also made a list of why it’s a good reason to attend a conference in person. Here’s my list:

Meet experts face-to-face. If the conference isn’t too large, there usually is time following a presentation to engage in conversation with the speaker and ask additional questions. Sometimes it’s about taking a photo with someone who has influenced or inspired you.


I’m hanging out with NFPW member Donna Penticuff and Rick Bragg!

Last year, at the NFPW conference in Alabama, we heard from Rick Bragg. I have been reading his works for decades, first his articles in Southern Living and later his books. I was delighted to be photographed with him. At this year’s conference in Bethlehem, I’ll meet Shonali Burke. I’ve participated in her on-line trainings and have conversed with her several times digitally, but I’ve yet to meet her in person.

Discover new tools. I still remember the first time I heard the term, “blogging.” It was at a national communications conference, and I could not wrap my head around it. But an idea was planted, and I have now been blogging for a decade. This year, I’ll be learning about podcasting. I also enjoy vendor booths because I often discover tools that can simplify my life. Best of all, I can test them.

Be inspired in a new space. Sometimes at work I leave my desk and work for an hour or two in a conference room. I simply need a new perspective. Conferences provide an opportunity to learn in a new space and encourage fresh thinking and new ideas.

Cut through the clutter. I confess I am an information junkie. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find the time to sit through a webinar or listen to a podcast. And sifting through dozens of helpful links to find the most helpful is time-consuming. At conferences, speakers deliver the content I need to hear and share ideas that are often new to me. They also often remind me of the basics.

Hang out with your tribe. One of the benefits of a conference is being with like-minded individuals. These are people who want to learn and grow their skills. They also are people who understand the challenges you face. Not only can they commiserate, they can offer solutions from their first-hand experiences.

Network outside your comfort zone. As an introvert, I struggle with networking. Through the years, though, I’ve developed some tricks to increase my comfort. I don’t try to meet everyone at a conference. I do make a point to get to know the people sitting next to me or at my table. I learn about their profession and what we might have in common. I try to follow-up with the individuals once the conference has ended. I may share a book suggestion or provide them with notes from a session that I attended but they weren’t able to. I also try to chat with at least one vendor, too. Invariably I learn about a new product or service.

Invest in yourself. I almost didn’t include this one because it seems obvious. And yet, in many ways, it’s the most important reason to attend a conference. We all have things we can still learn, and we can continue to grow our skills. Attending a conference is an investment in yourself and your career.

3 Reasons to Join a Professional Group

At the end of the year, it seemed like all I was doing was paying dues. I belong to several groups and membership expired on Dec. 31. As someone who has served as the membership director, I know how wonderful it is to see all of the renewals come in before the year ends.

I know that I have to pay my dues at the end of the year. I set money aside throughout the year, knowing that with the holidays I may run short of expendable cash. This way I’m ready.

I didn’t hesitate in paying my dues because of the value of the organizations.

My mystery writers group (Sisters in Crime Central Virginia) provides me with hope and confidence. Most of the members are published authors, some of whom have made the best-seller list. All of them have offered tips and encouragement as I work on mine at my own pace. Hearing their stories gives me confidence and hope that one day my book will appear in print and reside on a shelf or an electronic device.

zen-rockMy coaching group (International Coaching Federation Virginia) is helping me to learn and develop skills. I’ve been informally coaching for years, and decided I wanted to formalize the process. I attend monthly meetings and learn from successful coaches. I’ve learned about imagery, mindfulness and credentialing. Last year I created my own coaching page so individuals can secure my services.

My communications groups (VPC, NFPW) have provided me with hope, confidence and new skills. They also have provided me with leadership opportunities. I have served as president of both my state affiliate and the national organization. I’ve led a strategic planning workshop for NFPW with another member.

As an added benefit, I have found that in all of these groups there are several individuals who also offer friendship. That’s a nice bonus.

Many more reasons exist for joining a professional group. I am interested in hearing from you about what groups you belong to and why. If you are willing to share, please post your reply in the comment section.


Sunshine Week Shines on Open Government

swlogo-198x300Sunshine Week, which runs March 16-22, is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. It began with a group of Florida editors starting Sunshine Sunday where they held a coordinated campaign to focus on open government.

Without an effort to keep government open we could shift to a government-run society. “We would gradually see an acceleration of initiatives intended for perfectly good reasons to keep information from the public — to protect privacy or efficiency or security or internal deliberation — to the point that the public would have to prove a ‘need to know’ to penetrate the custodian’s protective shield around the government information,” says Tonda Rush, a media lawyer in Washington, D.C., and a long time National Federation of Press Women member.

Some think we are already there in many categories of records. “When that happens, we shift from an open society to a government-run society where democracy has to apologize for asking to be informed,” Rush says.

Part of an open government is Freedom of Information, which on the federal level, “creates the presumption that all the records of the federal executive branch are open, unless closed for a permissible and exempt reason,” Rush explains.“It sets an important tone of transparency and citizen-stakeholder values in our national life.”

In addition, every state has some version of an open records law (as well as open meetings laws) that give this same guarantee of citizen-facing transparency, and in that case, opens the government that works most closely with most people in their daily work and lives.

“Unfortunately, the many exemptions, competing stakeholders and sometimes conflicting court opinions have made most of these laws something of a Swiss cheese,” Rush notes. “Also, the plethora of privacy laws coming from Congress and state legislatures have created a gaping hole where public accountability is sometimes entrapped.”

To learn more about Sunshine Week visit http://sunshineweek.rcfp.org/.



Time To Schedule Time Off

Utah logo

NFPW Conferences feature tours, which make for great vacations.

Earlier this week I took a random day off. It wasn’t spontaneous because I scheduled it with my boss in advance, but it was random in that one day last week I realized I needed a day off to do nothing.

I’m able to do that because at the start of each calendar year I divide up my days off among the four quarters. I find it restorative to take some time off each quarter. Admittedly, I don’t take as many days in January, February and March because it’s just too cold. Some of the days are floaters, meaning I may change when I take them closer to the time.

The point, though, is to schedule the time off and to take the time. Many Americans, however, will leave an average of nine paid vacation days unused this year, according to a new survey reported by Marketplace.org.

Not taking the time has a cost. Marketplace.org also reports that women who don’t take vacations are two to eight times more likely to suffer from depression, while for men the risk of heart attack rises by a third.

One of my favorite times to vacation happens in late summer/early fall. I attend the National Federation of Press Women Conference and sign up for the pre- or post-tour and sometimes a day tour. Those extra days off give me time to recharge my batteries, explore America and hang out with a bunch of amazing women (and men).

If you haven’t, now is a good time to be sure you have scheduled all of your vacation days.

Are You Standing Still, Or Are You Growing?

What have you done outside of work to make yourself better over the last two or three years?

That’s a question that Seth Besmertnik asks of interview candidates. Besmertnik, who was being interviewed by Adam Bryant for his New York Times column, “Corner Office,” said, “How people spend the time when they’re not working and when they’re not sleeping is the biggest indication in my mind of what they want in life.”

It’s a question I ask myself frequently. One thing that has helped me for the past two decades is my involvement with the National Federation of Press Women. Through that organization, I’ve developed my event planning skills, my networking skills and my leadership skills. The next conference is in Utah, and if you are a communicator, it’s a great time to get involved. If you already are a member and have not been to a conference, why not make this the year you do something to help your career? As a first-timer, you can apply for a grant to have the registration fee covered.

You can also learn new skills by taking online courses. One of my favorite places to learn is Lynda.com, which allows you to participate in tutorials on thousands of software subjects for a small fee. A one-month membership is $25 or you can sign up for several months or a year and access close to 1,000 courses 24/7. I’ve found the courses helpful for improving my skills in PowerPoint and Excel and for learning the basics of new technology.

Another way to improve your skills is to volunteer. One of my colleagues is a graphic artist and she volunteers those skills to help an animal rescue organization. I’ve been learning more about the world of publishing by volunteering at my local library to coordinate a writers’ series.

You could also pick up a book. I try to read four to six books related to my profession each year. I’m doing better now that I participate in a book club at work that is focused on leadership. Once a quarter we read a book and discuss it. We just read The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner.

The adage “If you aren’t changing, you’re standing still” is more true than ever. I ask again, what have you done outside of work to make yourself better?