#GWA2016: A Newbie Reacts

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By Helen Newling Lawson

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Did I mention the swag? Generous sponsors brought tons of samples and plants to writers eager to learn about the latest and greatest introductions.

I came to the 2016 Annual Conference and Expo in Atlanta as a newbie both to the organization and as a first-time conference attendee. I might not have normally invested the time and money this early in my transition to my “dream job” as a garden communicator. But as a local, living in Suwanee about 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, I had the good fortune to be spared the travel expense. This was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. So despite not knowing a soul, I headed down the road to see if this event could really measure up to the excitement I saw brewing on the Facebook page.

My first impression was one of an incredibly welcoming and encouraging group. People were so excited to greet a “new-bee,” I started to wonder if they were competing for a secret prize! I was also struck by the diversity of skills and mediums that members represented. I met podcasters, bloggers, TV videographers, editors, columnists, manufacturer reps, speakers, authors, PR pros, photographers, social media advocates, and more.

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Bus rides were a great chance to meet lots of friendly folks

The First-time Attendees Meeting on Friday afternoon was one of my favorite events at GWA Atlanta. The odd configuration of chairs in the room was soon revealed to be a set up for a “speed date,” with newbies on one side and mentors on the other. We worked our way down the line, with just a few minutes to get to know the person opposite us. The room got loud, the oxygen got low, but it was the perfect way to break the ice. Best of all, you had a jumping off point to continue the conversation the next time you saw them.

The mentors kept up the good work the rest of the weekend. It was a thrill just to meet Brent of Brent & Becky’s Bulbs, so you can imagine how I felt when he dedicated himself to making me feel welcome every time he saw me!

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More fellowship over our box lunches on the Carter Center lawn

And then there were the opportunities. I connected with tons of people I never would have had the chutzpah to contact normally. I discovered avenues for work I never even knew existed. It took a real effort and several weeks to work my way through the stack of business cards I came home with. The best part was that I never felt like there was an “insider’s club” or a magic “open sesame” phrase you had to know to uncover these opportunities. You just introduced yourself, and the next thing you knew the person was telling you how you could help them, or introducing you to someone else you might want to know.

If I could do anything differently, I wouldn’t have pinched the pennies and forced myself to stay “off-campus.” Still, I did receive a valuable piece of advice during from one of my speed dates: “Don’t try to do it all.” So it did help to have a time away from the conference to retreat, reflect, and recharge – both myself and the camera battery. But next year in Buffalo, I’m all in!

Meet the Author

helen_lawsonHelen Newling Lawson is freelance writer and content marketing pro at Spot On Communications. She also blogs at Georgia Kids Outdoors.

Author: Staff @ GWA

GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators, formerly known as the Garden Writers Association, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GWA members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GWA members.

1 thought on “#GWA2016: A Newbie Reacts”

  1. Great write-up, Helen! You described my experience exactly when I joined in 2010 with the conference nearby my hometown in Dallas, “the opportunities…I discovered avenues for work I never even knew existed.” GWA opens up the view in wonderful ways. Looking forward to Buffalo with you!

    Like

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