First-Time Attendee Guide

Navigating the American Historical Association’s annual meeting can be a daunting experience for first-time attendees. However, with the right planning, you are sure to have an inspiring, engaging, and intellectually stimulating experience. Here are some tips to ensure that you get the most out of your first AHA meeting.

Prepare

With over 400 panels and lots of meetings, there is a lot to do at the AHA annual meeting. Take the time to look at the meeting program beforehand (or even on the plane) to get a glimpse at sessions or events you may want to attend. Once they become available, use the interactive program online, and download the annual meeting app. It might take a while to navigate the hotels, so factor that into your planning.

If you know of others in the profession (from your research, people you’ve met at past meetings, former teachers, etc.), email them and ask if they’ll be attending the annual meeting. If they are, suggest meeting up with them at an event or in the city.

Print out your business cards—at least 50—and bring them with you to the meeting. It’s a good idea to always have some on hand. Have a notebook or folio to take notes. There will be wifi reception in the meeting rooms and hotel lobbies, so bringing your laptop or tablet is also an option. It’s best not to have a huge backpack/bag, though—less is more since you’ll be walking around a lot all day.

Dress Nicely

Dress recommendations? You do not need to wear a suit, but you might not want to attend sessions in jeans either. Business casual—a shirt and pants or a skirt—is what most people do. Comfortable shoes—and ones that can handle inclement weather in between hotels—are a must.

Meet People

Networking is one of the most important things about the annual meeting. Walking between hotels, in between sessions, sharing a table for coffee, sitting before a presentation starts—always be willing to meet new people. If you see someone who was at the same session as you during the weekend, you have an easy lead-in to conversation when you find yourself in the same session again with “What did you think about….?” or “Do you also do research related to…?”

You might find it helpful to read through the program ahead of time, find panelists whose interests overlap with yours, and email them in advance to see if they can meet for a coffee. This can help you to form valuable contacts and give you some time to prepare to make the most out of your meeting.

Practice an “elevator speech” of your research interests (among your friends is fine!), whether a synopsis of your dissertation argument if you’re close to finishing or an overview of the questions and sources that interest you if you’re not. This should ideally be thirty seconds or less.

Tours are a great chance to meet people in an informal setting that encourages conversation.

If you are a graduate student, be sure to attend the Reception for Graduate Students. There is also an orientation session, Getting the Most Out of the Annual Meeting. You are also welcome to attend the Graduate and Early Career Committee (GECC) Open Forum.

The Career Fair is another fantastic opportunity to meet historians from all professions and to engage with mentors from various career paths. Mentors will provide informational interviews and guidance on the transition from history studies to a history career.

Attend Sessions

The role of a session is to stimulate discussion by describing new research or exploring a professional issue. Most sessions last for two hours, and presentations usually conclude 30 minutes before the scheduled end to allow for discussion with the audience. If you see an appealing title in the program, read the panel description online to get an idea of what the session is about. If you have a question of general interest, feel free to speak up during the session when the moderator opens the floor. If you have a more specific question, that’s a great reason to talk to a speaker after the session. If you find yourself in the wrong room, or a session is not what you expected, don’t feel bad about leaving in between speakers. It can be hard to get to everything you are interested in; don’t waste your time in a session that isn’t what you expected.

Poster sessions offer a unique opportunity to scope out others’ research and discuss work of interest. Browse the rows of posters, then talk one-on-one with researchers doing work you like. Many people find poster sessions particularly beneficial because you can move at your own pace, which will often be quicker than in presentations.

If you have colleagues with similar interests who will be at the meeting, split up and go to different sessions, and plan to meet to share what you learned.