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ExPRessions :: Professional Development Public Relations :: 10 Tips For Students Attending the PRSSA National Conference

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QuestionsConferences related to public relations are a great opportunity for networking and professional development. Although I won’t be attending the 2009 PRSSA National Conference, I do have a few tips for the students who will be. I’ve attended several PRSSA conferences at CMU, one national conference and a Ragan Unconference.

1. Swap business cards to connect with people after the conference. You’ll be meeting countless people, so write short notes on the back of the cards to help you remember who they were and what you discussed. (Example: “Met at dinner. Discussed agency work. Has planned a professional development event before.”)

2. Never sit next to the same person twice. Networking was the most fun when I sat beside complete strangers and struck up a conversation with them. If you only sit with people you know, you won’t get as much out of the conference.

3. Ask questions. Whether you are in a session or sitting next to someone you don’t know, ask questions to get a conversation going and to learn more. Strive to get as much out of the conference as you can.

4. Know the schedule. You’ll make your life 10 times easier if you know what sessions you plan to attend and where they will be held. Plan to get to sessions as early as possible. This gives you time to network. Also, remember that some sessions fill up fast (in my experience, event planning and entertainment PR sessions were the fullest).

5. Take good notes. You might be able to refer back to them for a project or write a blog post about what you learned.

6. Be a professional. Even though you are a student, you are at a professional conference. Have fun, but act professional. There are PRSA professionals nearby and some of the students could be your future coworkers.

7. Dress nice, but comfortable. Professional dress is the norm at many conferences. Keep comfort in mind. For example, flip flops are unacceptable, so buy some gel inserts for your heels or have a comfortable pair of flats.

8. Get a decent amount of sleep. With a full day of sessions and a night of socials, it’s hard to find time to rest at conferences. But definitely try to get some sleep because you don’t want to miss a good session because you’re exhausted.

9. Take advantage of every opportunity and session. You aren’t required to show up to sessions, so you might be tempted to enjoy the San Diego beaches instead. Don’t miss out on opportunities to network with your peers and learn from professionals though.

10. Follow up with those you met. When you go home, you’ll be incredibly motivated about your career. Be sure to send notes to people you met and thank the speakers for attending the event. It’s great to make that last connection and you will stand out in their mind.

I won’t be there to experience the 2009 PRSSA National Conference, but I’m sure it will be a great experience for those who are attending.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rachel M. Esterline and SamanthaReho, Kendall Schmidt. Kendall Schmidt said: @TexasStatePRSSA RT @rachelesterline: 10 Tips For Students Attending the PRSSA National Conference: http://ow.ly/vhaV #PRSSA #txstateprssa […]

  2. Very good advice, speaking from experience taking notes on the back of the business cards is a must! That way when following up with that person you can remember a little about what you talked about, and what they do. And as always dress nice, we are students working towards being professionals, so looking the part is always a plus, and a must. Finally don’t find a favorite person to be around, meet as many people as you can and network for someday down the road you may work with them again!

    Be safe and see you at conference!

  3. I meant see everyone else there, sorry your not able to join us.

  4. Nice thoughts, Rachel. As your tips apply to more than just PRSSA Conferences, I would add to follow up online, as well. I think it’s really important to do hand-written notes, but following the people you meet on Twitter, reading their blogs and keeping in touch will be extremely beneficial, too.

  5. Definitely! Following up online is probably one of the most important things to do. That is how I’ve stayed in touch with most of the people I’ve met at past events. Thanks for the comment, Nick.

  6. Thanks, Nathan. I hope you enjoy the conference. I really wish I was going.

  7. […] Tweets about this great post on TwittLink.com […]

  8. This is all great advice. While I’m not a PR major, these tips apply to anyone attending a conference.

    I’m hoping to attend a conference this fall to do networking in Orlando. I’ve definitely made the mistake of finding one person to sit next to! That is the the one tip that I will be sure to follow.
    I also agree with having business cards available to swap and take notes on the back. Great article!

  9. These are great tips, not just for the PRSSA conference, but for any networking event. I will definitely take your advice on sitting next to someone new at each event when I’m at conference. It’s the easiest and most effective way of meeting new people and broadening your social network.

    Thanks for the tips!

  10. I agree with your points Rachel! National Conference is such a great networking opportunity, especially if you are new to public relations and are just building your network. I want to add two quick thoughts though if I may:

    1) Connect with professionals you meet at conference on LinkedIn and PROpenMic. Connect with students on Facebook. Simply because it is easier to continue conversation via Facebook on the peer level, while LinkedIn and PROpenMic have so far been important for maintaining more professional communications.

    2) During the conference, follow the #prssanc hashtag for quotes from other sessions, twitter handles of students and pros in attendance, tweetups and more! But don’t keep you head in the social media world the whole time! Look up from the BB/iPhone, smile and make a new friend!

    Can’t wait to see everyone at Conference and I wish you were going Rachel!!

  11. Thanks, Evan. I appreciate you adding your thoughts. I was wondering what the hashtag was for the conference, too.

  12. These definitely work at any networking event. I have found the PRSSA conferences to be unique though. It seems that people are always more willing to talk to random people and network. Thanks for commenting!

  13. Kyle, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you found it useful even though you aren’t a PR major.

    I definitely recommend attending any conference. It’s such a great experience and you leave it feeling very motivated.

  14. Rachel, you really hit all the points – great job! I will reinforce one thing that (over the 11 years I’ve attended PRSA & PRSSA functions) PLEASE ladies, wear sensible shoes! I can’t tell you how many times I see young women carrying their heels around, slung over their shoulder or looped over their bag, because they’ve worn their feet raw. I know this may sound insignificant, but how can you look professional when you’re limping and grimacing in pain, or worse yet, barefooted.

    I’ll be exhibiting at both PRSA and PRSSA (sorry, no jobs right now – just brand awareness marketing). Feel free to stop by and say hi! :-)

  15. Great advice. I would also add getting to know the National Committee. As VP of Chapter Development, I would like to meet as many members as possible and the feeling is mutual amongst the Committee.

    I remember being a general member at National Conference and listening to so many members who was afraid to approach their leaders. I hope that isn’t the case this year because we are in this position to serve you.

  16. The shoe issue is one I remember the most. Never try a new pair of shoes at a conference! Bad idea!

  17. Kion,

    Thanks for making that point. I hope you get to meet a lot of great members at the conference this year.

  18. […] This post was Twitted by USF_PRSSA […]

  19. […] an active membership in PRSSA including traveling to regional activities and national conferences. I am still in touch with people I met nearly 10 years ago through […]

  20. […] out there to make your Conference experience fulfilling. Check out Central Michigan PRSSA member Rachel Esterline’s post in which she gives her top ten tips for attending National Conference. PRSSA at Kent State posted […]

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Rachel M. Esterline works in public relations and marketing communications. Her blog, ExPRessions, contains her musings about PR, marketing, career and professional development, Gen Y issues, personal branding and more. Rachel also does freelance consulting and writing. She is originally from Genesee, Mich., and will graduate from Central Michigan University in May 2010.