Students: How to navigate ONA16

Being a student at the ONA conference is exciting. It’s one of the world’s largest gatherings of digital journalists. The rooms are filled with industry leaders and premier media experts who are knowledgable and passionate about journalism. As the student representative to the Board of Directors and a conference attendee, I’m looking forward to bringing what I learn at ONA16 back to my university and student newspaper.

But as a previous student attendee, I also know the conference can seem intimidating. It shouldn’t. Here are a few ways to take maximize your experience:

Pack smart. In addition to appropriate attire for daytime conference sessions and evening events (think business casual), print out some business cards with your name, social media handles and personal website listed for reference. Before leaving, make sure to have your portfolio updated with your most recent work. As far as gear, the sessions are a mix of inspiring speakers, hands-on activities and networking opportunities. A lightweight tablet is probably the best note-taking technology to bring, but you’ll also see many people taking notes on laptops and snapping photos with their phones.

Network like it’s your job. But not like you’re only trying to get a job. The most powerful networking connections are those which stem from genuine conversations. Review the list of #ONA16 speakers and #ONA16 attendees (@ONAconf will release a Twitter list closer to the conference) in advance and research those who you may be interested in speaking with. If you feel uncomfortable breaking the ice IRL, try connecting online first and make plans to meet up at another event.

Take advantage of physical networking spaces, built in networking time and networking opportunities — such as during lunch or at a Table Talk — to introduce yourself. And embrace your status as a student with a different perspective. You may not have mutual friends or shared experiences in common, but it doesn’t mean professionals won’t want to talk with you. My strategy whenever I get nervous is to ask people questions about themselves, their jobs, what led them to their positions and what they enjoy about their job. And don’t forget to follow up by email!

Seize the student opportunities. While professionals can be great mentors and serve as a source of advice and inspiration, some of the most powerful connections you can make at the conference and within ONA are with your peers. Join us Friday morning for a student meetup, where we’ll have an informal discussion about navigating the conference, networking and getting involved with ONA and your local student group.

Plan for next year. It’s never too early to think ahead. Watch out for scholarships and conference volunteering opportunities, both of which can earn you a discounted rate. Apply for the Student Newsroom. And join or start an ONA student group.

If that doesn’t work, find me (@mlbaruchman). I’m passionate about the ONA student community and would love to meet you.