Getting the Most Out of the Exhibit Hall at NACAC

During the coming week, many of us will make our annual pilgrimage to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) conference this year in Columbus, Ohio. Over a quarter of a century ago I attended my first NACAC conference and today I look back at all I have learned on how to make the most of this annual event.

Sure, many may see this as an opportunity away from the office, but I recall a college president who once spoke at a TargetX conference telling attendees that he watched the tweets and Facebook posts of those that attended in New Orleans that year and expressed concern that this was just some big party that, at best, didn’t benefit the college and at worst, publicly showed an unprofessional side of some of our colleagues.

Despite how much fun it has, is and always will be, there is a lot one can get out of their time at NACAC that isn’t painful and actually might help you do a better job helping your students enroll and succeed at your college or university. One such place is the exhibit hall. The people have referred to the vendors exhibiting as “the dark side” or the “money hungry sales people”. But in fact, many of those who spend a lot of money to exhibit at NACAC are actually looking for partnerships with colleges, not just a quick buck. And a lot of those standing in their booth were former admissions counselors, directors and deans (like me). So we have a special place in our hearts to help you and your institution and your institution’s students be successful.

So here are three tips to make the most of your time visiting the exhibit hall at NACAC:

  1. Actually go into the exhibit hall. Yes, some people will avoid it like there’s some major plague in there even if there’s refreshments between sessions. But better yet, review the exhibit hall layout and the list of companies that will be there. Make a plan as to who you want to see and why. Here’s the layout of the hall for this year (TargetX is located at booth 621): https://www.eiseverywhere.com/ebooth/delegate.php?eventid=139443
  2. Wander the entire hall. Get to know someone or some company with which you’re not familiar. Typically at conferences, the “big guys” are up front in large 20×20 or 40×40 foot booths. You’ve probably heard of them, you may already be working with them and they’ve been around for along time (this is TargetX’s 16th year exhibiting at NACAC). But around the edges of the hall you may find some new companies that may or may not be at NACAC next year, but they might have an interesting idea to consider. Take time to take it all in, and if it’s not clear what a particular company does (shame on them), don’t pass them by (that would be a shame on you), but rather stop and ask questions.
  3. Share you challenges. The best way any of us can help you is if you share what’s been your hardest challenge at your institution to tackle. This is a great opportunity to get some coaching from those of us who have been around for a long time and have seen the trends come and go. Personally, I’ll be meeting with many of your colleagues and I welcome the opportunity to meet with you as well. One of my favorite things to do in my position is to meet interesting people, talk through their issues and coach them through a path to success. If this is something you’d like to do, sign up to meet with me at NACAC (http://meetme.so/brianwmniles) – I look forward to it!

Safe travels to Columbus. See you in the exhibit hall!

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