Tips for First-Time Attendees

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By Carol Michel

Congratulations on making the wise decision to finally attend your first GWA conference. Want some tips to make it a great experience? Sure you do!

  1. Prepare for the conference ahead of time. If you aren’t online, get online and hook up via social media. Make sure to sign up for the Facebook groups GWA: Annual Conference & Expo to get the latest scoop on the conference, and GWA: The Association of Garden Communicators to get the latest on the organization. Look for the hash tag #GWA2018 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see what people are saying before, during and after the conference.
  2. Bring your business cards. Even in today’s online world of Linking in, Facebook friending and Twitter following, business cards are still helpful. You’ll get a lot of cards so jot something on the back to remember each person. And double check your own card to make sure it has all the info you want to share on it.
  3. Attend the trade show. Stop at every booth if you can and thank the exhibitors (and sponsors) for attending and then listen to them tell you about their products or services. It’s tempting to pass up a booth that you don’t think interests you, but you shouldn’t. You never know what opportunities await.
  4. Attend the seminars. Garden communicators share freely what they know and have learned as writers, speakers, marketers, bloggers and photographers. You’ll pick up tips and tricks and industry insider info.
  5. Meet people. Meet your garden writing idols and favorite authors. Meet your Facebook friends in person. Seek out those people who are wearing so many pins from past conferences they are practically bent over from the weight of them. Those people have a lot of knowledge and are willing to share it with you. Introduce yourself to attendees with lots of ribbons attached to their badges: Fellow, Board Member, Local Committee, Hall of Fame, Mentor, Speaker, President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer—they all want to meet you!
  6. Prepare to get some plants. Some vendors will give you sample plants to take home and trial in your garden. Yes, you’ll pack them in your suitcase. The key to having room for plants is to not over pack, so that there is actually room in your suitcase for the plants. Knock the soil off to allow for tighter packing, wrap the roots in wet newspaper and then put the plants in plastic bags that you brought from home. Plant as soon as possible when you get home.
  7. Wear your First-Timer ribbon. No, it doesn’t make you look like a newbie. It makes you look like a smart person who finally decided to attend the GWA conference. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the number of people who introduce themselves to you and offer to help when they see your First-Timer ribbon.
  8. Pace yourself. It’s a jam-packed agenda: Seminars, garden tours, trade show, IGC show, and awards banquet. Get plenty of rest before you go to the conference, plan to enjoy yourself throughout the conference, and follow up with a day or two of rest after the conference.
  9. Follow instructions on the garden tours. Get off the bus quickly as time is limited in some gardens. Set an alarm on your smartphone for a few minutes before you need to be back on the bus.
  10. Pack for the climate. We see gardens rain or shine and sometimes there is a lot of rain. Bring your umbrella, big floppy hat and sunscreen. And don’t forget comfortable, waterproof, walking shoes.
  11. Go on a post-conference tour. This add-on extra day is usually pretty relaxed. The “official” conference is over and everyone is now ready to relax, see some gardens, and just enjoy the company of other like-minded gardening types.
  12. Follow up after the conference. Go through your notes and the business cards you collected and reach out with thank you notes (especially to exhibitors, sponsors and local organizing committee) and any other follow up you’ve planned.
  13. Finally, mark your calendar for the next year’s conference, which will be announced at the awards banquet. Once you’ve been to one GWA conference, you’ll want to attend every year.

Meet the AuthorCapture978

Carol Michel is an award winning freelance writer with a degree in horticulture from Purdue University. She is the author of Potted and Pruned: Living a Gardening Life and Homegrown and Handpicked: A Year in a Gardening Life and blogs about gardenig at May Garden Dreams. She has attended nine GWA conferences and looks forward to meeting first-timers in Chicago. Email her at

Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm 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 GardenComm members.

One thought on “Tips for First-Time Attendees”

  1. Great list Carol! Tips like these helped me surf last year conference in Buffalo! What a great time I had! What did I learn? During the exhibition, where sponsors and members gather: Do not take EVERY goody with you right away. Walk the floor, talk to the vendors, and when you´re about to leave, then take EVERYTHING! Otherwise, your shoulders end up sore and your going to be more tire to network. A wise recommendation I received from Barbara Wise, after she saw me holding lots of bags!! Bring batteries and make sure your business cards have a physical address. You never know when someone wants to send you a surprise card or an special gift! See you in Chicago!


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