5 Reasons to overcome your fear of attending conference

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Jill Annis and Katherine Blackler

Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard from several bloggers about their experiences at the NAPO 2016 Conference. Previous posts in this series were:

Today we wrap up the series with a fabulous post by first-time attendee but long-time organizer, Jill Annis.


NAPO 2016 was the first organizing conference I have attended even though I started my business in 2002 and joined NAPO in 2004. Incredible, right?!

Attending the annual conference has been my goal since joining NAPO. The conference did not disappoint and I’m grateful for the experience.

Why did I wait so long to achieve my goal? Because of a 4-letter word you may be familiar with — FEAR.

If fear is holding you back from attending a conference, let me help you diminish your fears by sharing what I learned from my first NAPO Conference.

  1. Professional organizers are super friendly. Which is awesome since most conferences involve plenty of networking and new faces. I’m partly an introvert so this was my biggest FEAR, but I was pleasantly surprised to find I had nothing to worry about. I was among my peeps, 97 of which were first-time attendees. It was easy to start a conversation in the elevator, while standing in line for a latte, or waiting for a session to begin. Well-known experts in the field were just as welcoming. I found this to be true when author and founder of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (now I.C.D.) Judith Kolberg invited me to sit with her for breakfast. Thank you, Judith; your warmth and humor were appreciated! I was happy with my decision to book a single room at the conference site which provided a quiet place to retreat to when I needed a break.
  2. When you register, sign up to be matched with a NAPO Conference buddy. This is crucial if you are FEARful about navigating the conference itself. I signed up for a bud, even though a veteran conference attendee was traveling with me, because I didn’t want to monopolize her time. Buddies are NAPO conference pros who are willing and eager to share their insider tips. If you have a buddy you will have a go-to person for support and a person to grab a bite to eat with when you want a familiar face. Thank you to my fabulous bud, Andrea, and to Katherine my co-buddy from London.
  3. Check out the NAPO conference app before leaving home if you are FEARful about keeping your conference schedule, handouts, and a million other conference particulars organized. I didn’t realize how useful the app was until after the conference. During the conference I was too preoccupied to fully examine it. For example, the app has a list of attendees that can be sorted, searched, and messaged, which would have been useful for arranging meet-ups.
  4. FEAR of overwhelm was a major fear for me going in and common for most conference attendees. There are so many interesting break-out sessions to attend and plenty of cool ideas you’ll want to implement. Here is my advice: take breaks, skip a session if your head is starting to spin, meditate, exercise or leave the hotel for a bite to eat or site seeing. The number of times I left the hotel? … once for lunch! It felt too overwhelming to arrange an excursion but now I believe it wasn’t a smart choice. At the next conference I will enjoy more meals outside the hotel, as most meals are not provided with registration, and avoid post-conference overwhelm by listing 1-3 actions to take-away from each session and eventually implement.
  5. Lastly I FEARed the conference cost. It’s an investment in your profession but is it wise to block 3 days off my client calendar and spend a large sum of money on my business? The answer is YES! I feel recharged and have some new tools and skills to pass along to my clients. The networking opportunities were priceless.

Take your organizing business to the next level. Determine your cost to attend, including airfare, meals and lodging and then start budgeting for NAPO 2017 now.

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Jill launched Simply Organized, LLC in 2002, joined the National Association of Professional Organizers in 2004, and is a weekly columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, their daughter, and a black lab who barks too much.

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  1. Avatar Linda Samuels on July 6, 2016 at 9:46 am

    Jill- As a regular conference attendee, it’s easy to lose sight of the “fear” factor that others may experience. I love how you openly shared your fears and workarounds for how to overcome them. I’m sure you’ll help others that are feeling similarly. I’m happy for you that you jumped in despite your reservations and had an enriching and welcoming experience. Looking forward to meeting at the next one.

    • Avatar Jill Annis on July 6, 2016 at 11:34 am

      Thanks Linda! Hope to meet you soon also.

  2. Avatar Seana Turner on July 6, 2016 at 11:50 am

    That first conference is always going to be intimidating, but I’m so glad you pushed through the fear and came. We really are a wonderful community… I couldn’t agree more! I find POs to be committed to helping others, caring about how they are feeling, and fun-loving. Hope I will see you in Pittsburgh next year:)

  3. Avatar Katherine Blackler on July 6, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Jill and I were allocated to buddy Andrea who took us under her friendly wing and the three of us had a blast! I’d like to emphasise how welcoming the NAPO crowd are and what a great opportunity the buddy system is, whether you’re introvert or extrovert. If you’ve never been to NAPO, please do give it a try!
    I don’t want to belittle any fears or anxieties you have, but rest assured you’ll be embraced into the greater fold in no time. It’s lovely having a specific person to aim for on the first day and get the low-down on how it all works. Then you keep seeing their face throughout conference and meet whoever they’re chatting to and so it goes on…
    Now I’ve just got to overcome my financial fears of how I get to the next conference from across the Atlantic! I’m definitely going to explore the hotel-room-buddy system now I know that can help on accomodation costs! Til next time folks! 🙂

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 13, 2016 at 10:49 am

      I have to agree – I never felt so welcomed as I did when I attended NAPO2014.

  4. Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on July 6, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Great tips, Jill. Glad you overcame your fear and enjoyed conference! I, too, am an introvert who gets a room to herself. See you next year!

  5. Avatar Daniel Morgan on July 8, 2016 at 10:50 am

    I love attending conferences…Just as long as I’m not standing in front.. lol

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 13, 2016 at 10:48 am

      I’m an introvert, but I love standing in front. I’d much rather have people come to hear me speak than to have to mix and mingle and strike up conversations with strangers. 🙂

  6. Avatar Sabrina Quairoli on July 8, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Great tips, Jill. This is helpful. Fear can really stop us from many experiences. Kudos to you for looking past your fear and taking the leap.

  7. Avatar Janet Barclay on July 13, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Jill, thank you so much for sharing your experience in such a way that it will benefit others who may be on the fence about attending a conference. I think your post will be a valuable resource for years to come.

  8. Avatar Olive Wagar on December 22, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Thanks for reposting this, Janet; I missed reading it in July! But I did meet Jill & Katherine and it was truly a pleasure!! I appreciated the time to talk together. Jill, your observations are so accurate. Hopefully the post will encourage others to make their reservations for NAPO 2017!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on December 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm

      I’m glad you found it now, Olive! Great information like this is definitely timeless.

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