By Ashley Causey-Golden
“Representation matters.” This is a statement that has been heard time and time again but what does that mean to you, beyond the visual interpretation of diversity? This is a question that I ask myself constantly when I look for professional development or leadership opportunities. Will I be the only Black female in the room? Will there be multiple races and ethnicities there? Hardly ever do I give thought to my voice and why my perspective is important. Race and ethnicity are often intertwined with voice but being seen and being heard are two different things. I am used to being seen but I usually don’t think about or create a plan for being heard. That is a major mistake. Using your voice, sharing your insight and being empowered by your experiences are unique tools that you can use to create access points to opportunities for yourself and others.
Conferences are one platform for you to meet other movers and shakers as well as practice your ability to communicate your strengths and passions to different audiences. I have a few mindful tips to get you to the conference ready to shine because you already have what it takes to make an impact:
1. Acknowledge your motivation
Why are you attending this conference and what do you plan to do with it? Try to make it as concrete as possible. It is easy for the excitement and well-made plans to fall flat without having intentional follow through. This is especially true when you have never-ending professional and personal to-do lists. Aligning the ‘why’ to your actions will better prepare you to recognize the opportunities as they come your way. This is a process that will constantly need to be tweaked because as you continue to explore different opportunities, you will learn more about your strengths and what platforms best align with your motivations.
2. Make Networking fit your style
Networking is usually one of the top three reasons for attending a conference or joining a new organization. Tapping into how you network is important because there is no one-size-fits-all. To set yourself up for success, prepare early for networking opportunities. A helpful practice is to think about how you communicate best before attending a conference so you can leverage your strengths throughout the conference. Networking doesn’t have to be about gathering in tight groups and munching on cheese and crackers, leaning in to hear. Reaching out to people ahead of time for coffee, happy hour drinks or even meeting up for breakfast at the conference could be a potential option for you to try as you expand your professional circle. It can be challenging at first, but just remember the people who you want to meet are likely at the conference for the same reasons as you.
Conferences can be expensive. When calculating the cost for registration, travel, hotel, and food, conferences can be out of the question for many people. Finding a group of people who are going can be a possibility for splitting the cost for a car rental or a hotel/Airbnb. Your employer also might be an unexpected benefactor. If asking your employer to help fund a professional development opportunity, make sure you are ready to explain what you are going to do with the information for your team, division and company. Creating statements that are clear, direct and action-oriented can provide a sense of accountability for your employer and it shows the investment that you are willing to make.
You have put in countless of hours of work, now it is time to trust the work you have done. Your voice and your location are tools you can use to diversify your different environments. Whether you attend a conference or join a new organization, remember that only you can tell your story!