Presenting at Conferences: How to Pick a Topic

By Kathryn Magura

It’s definitely conference season in Student Affairs land. A simple check of my Twitter feed will result in a significant number of updates from colleagues at some conference or other, chatting with some colleague they only see once a year about some amazing session they attended. My next conference is not until the end of June, so at this point I’m sitting back observing and reflecting about what I’m seeing from those I admire who are currently attending conferences.

One of the things that I think about a lot is program presentations. As soon as program sessions are announced for conferences, I can be found scouring through them to see what sessions I plan to attend. As I did with my entire college course catalog, I usually have my entire conference planned out before I step foot on-sight for the conference. While I enjoy connecting with friends and colleagues at conferences, I truly appreciate being able to say that I learned something in a session. I love it when during a session I have an “A HA!” moment where something the presenter said got the wheels turning on how to improve a process or implement a new feature on my own campus.

Over time, I have gotten more excited about actually presenting at conferences as well. When I first started attending conferences as a new professional, I was frequently annoyed that none of the sessions seemed relevant to my work. Then a wise mentor reminded me that the only way to change this was by actually contributing sessions of my own. Ever since, I have challenged myself to go against the norm in traditional programming sessions to try and bring something unique and valuable to my colleagues. So what’s my process for finding a session to submit?

  1. Check the list-serve: Most of our professional organizations have list-serves where we can bounce ideas or questions off each other. Sometimes a question will generate a lot of conversations, which could turn into a great program session at a conference.
  2. What’s in the media? Social media has made it easier to share articles and research relevant to our field. Sometimes those articles influence change in our work, which would make a great session.
  3. What’s in the courts? Similarly, litigation can impact our work significantly as well, and could make a great panel discussion or presentation.
  4. What makes you think? Is there a topic you keep coming back to? Something that continually comes up in staff meetings? A trend you are seeing with the students you serve? Turn that into a program proposal and share it with others!

So how do you decide on a topic to present about?

Presenting at Conferences: How to Pick a Topic

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