“Me…No way!” That was my first thought after learning that a session proposal I’d submitted for a conference had been accepted. That was almost 17 years ago, while I was a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi. I was reading a bulletin board posting for presenters who could speak about college decisions and learning how to live away from one’s parents. At the time, I was a potential target audience for this post: a happily married 21-year-old student, mother to an infant and a McNair Scholar who was maintaining a 3.6 GPA and holding down three part-time jobs.
Lost in thought, I hadn’t noticed that my professor had walked up and had seen me pondering this post. He challenged me: “Why not?” he asked. He went on to say that my story was the “real story” and could encourage others who may be thinking they couldn’t do it all. It was the moment I realized I had a story to tell that could benefit others and jumped-started the value that I saw in myself as a presenter. I now have done more than 20 professional presentations at a variety of levels: city, parish and state levels and once at what was then referred to as NRPA Congress.
When you submit a session proposal for a conference, you are not only representing yourself, your family, your university, the organization that you work for, but also every other person in your professional career path. It’s not just those in the vicinity around you. It’s including those who have encountered you once or maybe several times on your career path. Being a speaker at any conference requires lots of time and preparation.
I am now in the 14th year at my current job, and the best advice I can give to anyone thinking about presenting at a conference is to just tell your story. Whatever the topic may be, you are the storyteller. Keep in mind that your goal is for everyone to leave your session with some information that either offers them new insight or will help them do their job better. Also, remember to practice when preparing your presentation. Enlist co-workers, family and/or friends to listen to and offer feedback about your presentation.
Lastly, presenting at conference is the easiest way to get your name out there and expand your professional circle. Part of being successful in your career is being known and respected by your colleagues — networking and communicating through conference platforms is a true definition of a win-win situation.
So, consider being a part of advancing our field. NRPA and the NRPA Annual Conference Program Committee invites all interested speakers to submit education session proposals for the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference. We are seeking energetic and engaging speakers and leaders who can share knowledge, experience and best-practice techniques related to the work of parks and recreation.
On Monday, October 29, 2018, we will begin accepting session proposals for the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference, which will be held in Baltimore, Maryland, September 24–26.
Katrina Coots Ward is the Assistant Department Director of Recreation for East Baton Rouge Recreation & Park Commission.