Samantha Ragland’s guide for extroverts at ONA19

Samantha Ragland, ONA Local organizer and Women’s Leadership Accelerator alumnae, attended her first ONA conference in 2014. She assembled this guide to offer strategies for extroverts to be A+ conference-goers and make the most of ONA19 — and it’s a companion piece to ONA Executive Director/CEO Irving Washington’s guide for introverts.

I’ll be the first to admit that attending ONA five years ago changed my professional life. Honestly, it introduced me to my professional life, and I’ll be darned if I don’t share that gospel with any and every journalist I meet. It’s this enthusiasm and subsequent ONA conferences (ONA19 makes six) that has led my colleagues to jokingly call me the “Mayor of ONA.”

One step into the conference hotel and it is on, baby! You’ll likely hear me shriek someone’s name before you ever see my face, and once you see me, I’m likely hugging someone so hard I’ve dipped them nearly to the ground in a sort of overjoyed mambo-tango number. I am this kind of extrovert. And if you are a “just add water” kind of instant extrovert like me, this guide is for you.

Because let’s be real: Even the Energizer Bunny’s batteries run out.

As an extrovert, I’ve learned that I can’t be on all the time, which means I’ve also learned the value of strategic pacing, mindful rest and concentrated dialogue. These three things have elevated my experience at ONA’s conference, and other such professional development opportunities, from work vacation to work sabbatical.

From one proud extrovert to another, here’s a three-step guide on how we can do conferences better.

Have a “pre-game, halftime and post-game” plan

ONA19 is huge, and no amount of extrovert-ism is enough to outweigh the importance of a conference plan — before you get there, while you’re there and when you’re not there.

  • Pre-game: That is, download the app and build your schedule. And for the love of your hottest commodity — your time — choose more than one session per block. This will save you from a bottleneck-at-the-door situation, which is bound to happen, as well as from a panel that’s not delivering what you hoped it would. A solid pre-game plan will keep your extroverted energy up and keep vibe-killers at bay.
  • Halftime: Consider how you’ll use your out-of-session time. While I know as well as anyone how difficult it is to sit still for five minutes, it’s important to seek out this you-time. I use it to jot down ideas and inspiration or transfer notes from a session-specific Evernote to one exclusively for big takeaways, themes and things I can act on when I return to my newsroom. If I didn’t do this, no sooner would I clock back in, than I would be drowning in emails and leaving ONA19 as a speck in my rearview.

The conference can quickly become a blur for both extroverts and introverts if we’re not careful. Both personality types need time to digest what they’ve learned, remember who they’ve met and draft how they’ll use it all come next Monday morning.

  • Post-game: This is less about when you get back home and more about what you do, and how you do what you do, at ONA19 after hours. You know what I’m talking about: the events, parties, meetups … the passed hors d’oeuvres, the drink tickets, the music.

Do you, boo, just know this: Extroverts can be wallflowers, too. After all, ONA19 is as much about the new connections you make as it is about the best practices you learn. We’re all responsible for the longevity of this industry, and there are few safer places to be completely you than at these after-hours ONA19 events.

Have a “seek new feathers” mentality

Extroverts are often drawn to other extroverts. This is all dandy, but imagine all the rad people you’re missing out on because they’ve got different feathers than you. Case in point: when I talk to ONA Executive Director/CEO and self-proclaimed introvert Irving Washington, it’s one of the best, most brilliant and equally humorous conversations I have at ONA’s conference every year.

Extroverts and introverts may be on opposite sides of the spectrum, but they can both glean so much from one another if given the time.

So you, extrovert reading this, look out for peeps with feathers different than yours. Be open to forgoing lunch with the usual suspects for an invite to or from someone you don’t already know. If you’re an ONA conference regular, watch for the 1s and 2s on badges. And no matter how difficult it may be for you to lower your multi-stimuli sensibilities, wherever you are and whoever you’re with during the conference, be completely there — don’t allow your eyes or ears to wander out of one conversation in search of another.

Have a “two ears, one mouth” strategy

If there’s one thing most extroverts were born to do, it’s work a room and be the life of the party. But as my daddy used to tell me, “Sammy, you were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason. You gotta listen twice as much as you speak.” Okay, Daddy, it may have taken thirty-something-odd years, but I hear you!

Extroverts, we’ve got stories for days. We really do, but man, so does everyone else. We have to be careful that we don’t turn what was supposed to be a dialogue into a monologue!

The ONA conference is a space to share ideas and learn from one another — and from panel-style sessions to hands-on workshops and Table Talks, there’s opportunity for every attendee to have not just a seat but a voice at the table.

Extroverts are especially poised to exhibit this culture and encourage others to participate. It starts with knowing your story and reading the room, which you likely already do so well, leads to asking open questions (think in hows and whats) and invitations for others to join the conversation and ends with deeper dialogue and lasting connections.

ONA19 is an IRL event. For extroverts, this means focusing on the few, instead of the many: the few connections, the few stories, the few conversations. We’re not collecting likes here. We’re living a shared experience for the good of an industry that needs each and every one of us.

So as you pack up and prepare to hit the Big Easy, ONA 20th anniversary style, consider taking on one of the challenges below to help focus your extroverted (or introverted) energy into meaningful time and experiences.

Challenges to help you get the most out of ONA19:

  • Text yourself the “one big thing” of the day, each day that you’re at ONA19.
  • Be a bridge by sharing the name and social media handle of someone you know with someone you’ve met.
  • Write down a question you want to be answered while at ONA. Then seek that answer before Saturday night.
  • Make one, real LinkedIn connection before leaving New Orleans on Sunday (bonus points for including a personal note in your “invitation to connect”).