November 21, 2009 / 2009 Fall JEA/NSPA / Walsworth Live

Picking sessions very important at convention

Written by Jenna Geers

1:00 a.m. I’m still up, hunched over a piece of paper with a blue-and-orange booklet at my side. The paper is covered in random words and scratch-outs, and the writing on it changes abruptly from pencil to blue pen about halfway through. The scene would be familiar, almost exactly the same as every other night I’ve stayed up into the wee hours doing homework, except for a few small details.

A) I’m in Washington, D.C. in a hotel room, and there are two sleeping girls in the room with me.

B) The booklet isn’t homework. It’s a JEA/NSPA convention information booklet, containing all I ever wanted to know (and then some) about the schedule, speakers, locations, and sessions.

C) I’m actually having fun.

Being somewhat of a convention veteran, I know from experience which sessions to skip just from key phrases in the descriptions. “We’ll brainstorm together” really means that there will be a room full of people shouting out “ideas” that start with “Well, in MY yearbook, we always…” and then go into some boring or trivial description about how their yearbook is so different and so much better than everyone else’s. Or, the editorial sessions that have “How to motivate your staff” in some similar phrasing. I’ll sum that one up for you: Food, funky worknights, and rewards for those who put in extra time.

So those get the ever-dramatic black Sharpie X through them. And you never quite know whether the remaining sessions are going to be great or a bust, so of course there’s risk involved in every single one!

One thing that I’ve found useful, though, is to do two out of your five (or six, depending on how motivated you are to get up early) sessions on an area that you don’t necessarily work in. For instance, I’m a writer. I make a point to hit up either a design or photography session every day. And, even if you’re not an editor like I am this year, find one good editorial leadership session to hit up. It never hurts to learn some new leadership skills!

Even knowing that, there are tons of possibilities for good sessions. A good rule of thumb is this: If the description is written well and sounds interesting, the session will generally follow suit. If the description is boring or not well-written, look for another first choice.

It speaks volumes about the amount of sessions that, even with all those guidelines, I was still having trouble choosing which sessions to go to the next day! It was a good thing. The schedule on my paper was finally somewhat solidified by 1:30. I had a first choice, a second choice, and sometimes even a third choice for the more popular sessions.

I switched out the light, settled into my uber-comfortable pillow, and tried to fall asleep over all the snoring.

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Jenna Geers