After last year’s NRPA Congress and Exposition in Anaheim, first-time Congress attendee Gerry Logan shared his account of the event with the Young Professional’s Network. As we gear up for 2013, he wanted to share his experience with the new class of first timers who are coming to Houston...
The 2012 NRPA Congress has come and gone, but allow me to briefly share the experience through my eyes--the eyes of a “newbie.” I found out I would be making the trip to Anaheim less than two weeks before Congress. I did the necessary scrambling to arrange my travel, flight, registration and overnight accommodations. I was fortunate to be offered a place to sleep in a corner of one of our other Young Professional Network (YPN) board member’s hotel rooms to overcome that hassle.
Having never been further west than Texas, and having been there only once, I had to overcome the unavoidable jet lag, while also attempting to work for the YPN immediately upon landing.
During Congress itself, I was in a constant rush of trying to work, taking in Congress, networking and justifying my presence overall. It was a challenging, and awesome, experience that I will always remember. As this was my first Congress, I am still trying to sort through the whirlwind of conversations, meetings, socials and sessions to pick my own brain about the benefits I received by attending. A few specific takeaways that I would like to point out were the networking opportunities, the exhibit hall, and the Opening General Session.
Young Professional Gerry Logan was a "newbie" at the 2012 NRPA Congress and Exposition and shares his key takeaways for this year's "freshman" attendees.
First, I am, and will always be, a huge believer in networking. You never know when a conversation you have with someone can make a difference in an award submission, job application, or unique work situation later in your career. I have to admit that I was a little cautious at first. Luckily, I had plenty of help from other YPN members, as I was constantly being introduced to other professionals from across the country. The Take a Young Professional to Lunch and NRPA Mentor programs were also a huge benefit, as they put me in touch with some truly inspiring professionals. Mr. Russ Akina from Logan, Utah was my 2012 mentor and I was able to share a wonderful meal with his staff. For Take a Young Professional to Lunch, I was fortunate to draw Ms. Pat Armstrong from Yarmouth, Massachusetts, and spent some priceless time getting to know her. I was constantly welcomed by everyone I met, from short conversations at breakfast or on breaks, to more in depth discussions during the educational sessions. Being from Mississippi, I am accustomed to hospitality, but I never expected it in such overwhelming amounts during my time in Anaheim. The memories and benefits from the networking opportunities were, quite simply, priceless.
Amidst the networking, I also tried to devote as much time as possible to taking in the exhibit hall experience. Everyone I talked to on YPN calls and NRPA Connect were constantly describing the extravagance of the exhibit hall. Anaheim did not disappoint, as I was left in awe at the sheer size of the exhibit space, not to mention the activities that were constantly taking place. I came with a plan--to take in a set amount of rows per time slot. But that plan went by the wayside the moment I walked through the doors. Between the unique playground equipment, climbing apparatuses, exhibits, and, of course, prize opportunities, I could have spent my entire time at Congress looking at exhibits and would have never had an idle moment. The exhibit hall is a must-see for anyone attending Congress, new or not.
While vendors certainly like to see everyone in the exhibit hall, many of our respective cities and agencies are generally more concerned with what we learned in educational sessions while attending conferences. The Congress session lineup was definitely comprehensive. However, instead of pointing out any particular session, I want to focus on the Opening General Session. Imagine a sports arena packed to capacity, with all the energy and excitement of an impending competition. That is exactly what the experience at the Opening General Session was like. Instead of a sports event, the thousands of people were packed in to cheer on parks and recreation, and the difference this profession is making in the lives of those we serve. The presentation was such that I still get chills thinking about it. The lights, videos and songs were enough to inspire the most complacent of professionals. After being treated to the “rally the troops” call by several NRPA Board of Directors members, including President and CEO Barbara Tulipane, the keynote speaker took the podium. In 30 enthralling minutes, the keynote took me on an emotional ride from laughter, to sadness, and, finally, to immense pride. I have never been short of motivation and initiative, but the Opening General Session made me want to do even more. It set the tone for the conference, and left me looking for more ways to get involved.
As both a first-time attendee and newly elected YPN Board member, I had a unique experience in that I was trying to take in all the aspects of Congress while simultaneously working for the YPN. The networking opportunities were worth the trip alone, and the exhibit hall and Opening General Session bombarded me with information while also inspiring me to want to do more for our profession.