There Is a First Time for Everything

October 1, 2016, Department, by Kevin Witte, CPRP

Some tips to help young park and recreation professionals navigate their first NRPA Conference.I attended my first NRPA Conference last year in Las Vegas, and I was not entirely sure what to expect. Based on my experience, here are some tips that will help you navigate through your first NRPA Conference.

How to Prepare

Know what you are doing before you get there to get the most from your Conference experience. Browse the schedule, locations and activities. Download the NRPA Conference Mobile App and use it to help plan your week. If you have never been to St. Louis, hop online and look up where your hotel is in relation to the Conference site and any other pre-Conference activities you are attending. Be sure to plan for travel time so you are not late to anything.

Picking Sessions

As a young professional, attending sessions that relate to your position is important. Look at the work you do and find sessions that will help you do your job better and/or give you new program ideas or strategies you can take back to your organization. You should also think about the job you want in the future. Pick a topic you might not know about and go learn! Lastly, find a session about leadership or management.  

The Young Professional Network (YPN)

Did you read Karen Lussier’s article in the August Parks & Recreation magazine about the YPN? If not, you should. Lussier is the outgoing YPN chair and discusses the YPN and why you should get involved. One thing I will reiterate is to attend the YPN retreat from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 4. This is a prime opportunity to meet other young professionals, learn about the YPN and discover how you can get involved. You can consider this group of people to be your new friends. I was slightly intimidated going to this meeting in Las Vegas not knowing anyone, but came into a room full of people who were excited to have me there.

The YPN is putting together a “Young Professionals at Conference” electronic publication. This will be available on NRPA Connect under the YPN community prior to the start of the Conference. Use this as a resource for finding other YPs in attendance. You can also sign up for the “take a student/YP to lunch” opportunity. This program pairs distinguished professionals with YPs/students. You will receive an email with your match and the two of you can set up a time at Conference to meet. 


Networking is the most important thing you will do all week. Do not be afraid to meet people! At every session, social and meeting you attend, sit next to someone you do not know and introduce yourself. Remember to pack your business cards! In Las Vegas I met tons of great people, many of whom I stay in touch with. Remember to ask for the other person’s business card and do not be afraid to follow up. Just the other day I asked a connection I made in Las Vegas to send me information on a Pokémon Go event he ran in one of his parks and he sent me all the details and information. You will be amazed at how these connections can help you down the line. 

Exhibit Hall

The exhibit hall is massive. Make sure you carve out time to walk through it. Meet different vendors, get product information and make even more connections. Many vendors will also host socials that you should attend.


After a full day of learning and networking, it is time to have some fun and relax. The YPN hosts a social that you can attend with your new friends. Also, check with your state association — odds are they have a social planned. Don’t have an organized social to attend? Make your own! When the day is winding down, you will find yourself in a sea of other Conference attendees in the city. Wear your name badge so others will recognize you, and get out there!

Random Things I Learned

Arrive to sessions at least 10 minutes early. Chances are if you think a session is really interesting, so do a lot of other attendees. Bring a notepad, tablet or laptop on which to take notes. Bring a backpack/shoulder bag to carry essentials like a water bottle, which you can refill at stations around the Conference. Lastly and most importantly, do not forget to have fun! 


Kevin Witte, CPRP,is the Recreation Supervisor for Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Parks in Washington state.