My First Professional Presentation Proposal: Mistakes, Mistakes, and More Mistakes!

Like many of you, at some point in our Student Affairs tenure we have participated in a professional development conference.  When the session is good, you feel energized.  You have obtained this wealth of knowledge that you cannot wait to unload on every student that walks past you.  When the session is bad (and let’s face it, when they are bad they are usually really bad) it is still a developmental opportunity.  You realize that if you were ever in their shoes, you would not make the same mistakes.  You would make yours engaging, worthwhile, and no one would ever leave dissatisfied!

For me, this first rush of excitement came after the 2006 ACUHO-I national conference.  I had attended as a participant of the STARS College and volunteered afterwards so that I could see what professionals were like at work—and what I discovered is that they are pretty awesome while at play as well!  I came away with what my supervisor calls “the conference high.”  I was enthralled by impressive presentations such as Mike Domitrz’s “May I Kiss You” and knew that one day I would return to the national conference scene to present.

So two months into my first professional position as a Hall Director, surrounded by numerous accomplished practitioners, I decided it was time to establish myself.  The older and further along in my career I get, the more competitive I become.  I needed to find a way to establish my competency as a professional, and I needed to do it quickly.  I looked to my fellow new co-worker and said, “We should present at ACUHO-I.”  It was then that the presentation proposal process began.  It is then that the errors and mistakes of a new professional started to become apparent.

Mistake Number One:  Do not propose a presentation just to be a presenter.  While my presentation partner came up with a presentation topic which both meets our interests and our experience, our ambitions for the project far outweighed our preparation.  If you are not vested in your program, not only is your audience going to notice it, but you are going to struggle during the initial preparations.  Once you start to struggle during the prep period, it becomes much easier to make additional mistakes.

Mistake Number Two:  Procrastination is your enemy.  Two months in, I was still learning my position.  Time is of essence during this period, as your traditional 50+ hour week does not provide much room for personal time as it is.  Once you start putting off your research, your proposal draft, or your meetings with your partner, your presentation stops becoming a priority.  While this appears to be common sense, your traditional time management skills can be tossed out the window thanks to over 400 first-year students demanding your attention.

Once we got back on track, we started to do some things right!  We utilized our mentors as peer reviewers to determine if this was even worthwhile for our target audience.  Much to our surprise, our efforts did not appear to be for naught as we received some amazing feedback and were given the green light to run with it.  We were even offered additional assistance in reaching our region for our qualitative data.  We rode this high for the rest of the semester, until we discovered that our presentation topic was similar to a report compiled by ACUHO-I only a few years earlier.

Mistake Number Three:  Thoroughly investigate what has already been done.  While we thought we had done significant research on our topic area, unfortunately we had not done enough.  Just as if you are attempting to get a research paper published, you never want to duplicate another’s work unless you are continuing the foundation they created.  Fortunately for us, while our presentation proposal was quite similar to the report, we were not replicating any of the data contained within.  If anything, the report gave us more of a foundation to base our research off of, similar to the oft used Entry-Level Competencies of New Student Affairs Professionals: A Delphi Study.  So heed caution, while we lucked out, our failure to do extensive research could have easily thrown all of our preparation out the window.

So while we have made numerous rookie errors, things have come together and we will find out if our efforts come to fruition in a couple of weeks.  If accepted, those of you in the GLACUHO region may be receiving our survey (shameless plug).  This has been a learning process every step of the way, and even if our proposal is not accepted, you better believe that we will be at the ACUHO-I Annual Conference and Exposition this summer learning, networking, and critically thinking about the sessions we attend.  You have a wealth of knowledge in the professionals around you, be sure to use it!

Charle Cherry

Student Affairs - the First Years

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