Amazing things can happen, even at the last moment – Be Prepared.

Amazing things can happen, even at the last moment – Be Prepared
+ 3 Organizational Tips for Conferences

If life is a compilation of lessons, then I just had a crash course of ‘Get up, Get out and Get at it’- grown up style. A true test of recognizing an opportunity, stealth focus and a consistent hustle. It is amazing what can be accomplished despite deadlines, with the right resources, right people, and right attitude. I went from paying the registration fee for a conference in a different time zone, getting laid off and then not having a clue as to how I could afford to attend – to learning about an award via email, writing my first award proposal, submitting it and ultimately flying to Arizona to attend – all within 14 days. 

Tuesday, March 1:
After wandering between the three buildings on the Uptown Campus, I finally found the correct office, the Center of Engaged Learning and Teaching. I heard this was the place to go when I have unique social, entrepreneurial and academic goals.

Wednesday, March 2:
I received an email about the Taylor Center. I read through the website and learned about the  Changemarker Institute as well as the Changemaker Catalyst and the Alvarez Spark Innovation Awards. After learning about them, I find out that the deadline for the awards was March 6. No pressure!

Saturday, March 5:
By the time the sun had risen in the morning, I had submitted my first proposal.

Sunday, March 6:
Before midnight both proposal applications were submitted. The documentation read that award winners would be notified within 7 days.

Sunday, March 13:
My heart was in my throat when I saw the email on my phone. I also felt slightly panicked that I still had to come up with the money in order to book the flight and accommodations. The amount awarded is actually a reimbursement.

Monday, March 14:
I resent the messages I had sent during the first week of this semester to my professors letting them know I was going to be out of town for a conference. I spent the day making calls and sending emails.

Tuesday, March 15:
I re-researched the least expensive flights and accommodation options. Before 12 noon, I had both booked. I also researched the exact addresses of the conference and workshop locations.

Wednesday, March 16:
The first day of the conference, at 4:40am I was en route to MSY to TUS. Exhausted, grateful, and wired – I was finally on my way.
The next time you find out about an opportunity that you think the deadline is too close, just try.
You’ll only truly miss out if you DON’T try. Best case scenario, you accomplish the goal.


Sunshine’s Conference Networking Tips

Tip 1: 15-Second Run Down

I was so excited to be able to attend, I wanted to put my best foot forward and make a positive first impression. For me, being truly confident means acknowledging my blindspots/short-comings. I try to use a combination of introspection, application of my strengths and honesty to come up with ways to address the areas I want to work on. For example, my passion on a topic makes me into a fast-taking, hyper-active chatterbox on a topic. There have been times that I can SEE myself doing it, like an out of body experience, but can’t stop it. In hindsight, it can be as comical as unfortunate. However, recognizing it is the first step, they say. So, I wrote down a bullet list of points I could spit out quickly where conversations dictate.

Example of 5 bullet points:
(1) My approach to Ethnobotany is from Health & Wellness.
(2) My goal is to preserve traditional plant knowledge from the farm to the folk, including medicinal plants using establish an online database.
(3) I’d like to test this idea in Community Gardens and Small Scale Farm sites through establishing ‘Ancestor Gardens’ containing traditional plants used by different cultures.
(4) I would work with members of the community to establish these ideas and build on them.
(5) As a Chef and Culinary Educator, I am qualified to teach the well-researched features, benefits and value of these traditional plants to help gain acceptance within each community.

Tip 2: Create a Spreadsheet to Record Contacts

I use Google Sheets. This way it’s on Google Drive and I can access it anywhere, with or without my computer. I create ONE sheet and THREE tabs: one tab labelled ‘Aspirational Contacts’, another tab ‘Team Players’, the last tab simply labelled ‘Contacts’.

Aspirational Contacts are people I’ve heard or read about who I really want to meet or reach out to but haven’t.
Aspirational Contacts-on Sheets

Team Players are people who’ve expressed/interest in working with my project.

Team Players

Contacts are simply people I’ve met and/or whose business cards I’ve collected.

Tip 3: Fun with New Contact Mugshots


Remembering names of people I’ve recently met are not among my list of strengths.
However, I have found that when I talk to someone long enough, I do remember what we spoke about, little details of their story, where they are from, something that connects with me. But rarely their name. Until I’ve seen them or continue chatting consistently over a period of time.
So, I work with what I have…a cellphone.
I picked up index cards and a Sharpie at CVS or a Dollar store. I placed them in an accessible pocket where I could easily grab it at a moment’s notice. I pre-write a sample card with my name, preferred means of contact and something unique or odd about me I’m willing to share and someone is likely to remember. People tend to remember the ridiculous or entertaining. I generally ask people for their name, preferred contact method and their favourite food or drink. Not only does it give me something to remember about them, it makes them smile and the relationship become a tad less transactional and shallow. I’ve found occasionally people like this idea and want to take a picture of me with my ID card. At the end of the conference, I have a phone full of names, email address and photos, so I have a better record of who I’ve met. Once I get back home, I enter the info into my Contact spreadsheet, file the images into a folder on Google drive label with the event name where we met and then delete the photos from my phone to save space. Keep in mind, business cards are still a good idea, but this is a clever way to compensate for a bad memory and make a memorable impression, while saving on business cards.