How to Get the Most Out of the 2018 NRPA Conference

Posted on 9/21/18 9:00 AM by Kim Fortin & Matt Fish

The 2018 National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Annual Conference gets underway in just a matter of days, with thousands of public and private sector professionals headed to Indianapolis to partake in networking activities, educational sessions and more. With so much going on, here’s how you can make the most of your time at NRPA’s yearly extravaganza.

Discover how to get the most out of attending NRPA’s annual conference:

Professionals at conference talk 

This year’s NRPA conference is sure to excite and enthrall all who attend. Hundreds of speakers and a smorgasbord of talks available to Parks and Recreation professionals, the goal is to spread insight and inspiration that will help attendees return to their agencies with ideas on how to reduce costs, boost administrative efficiency and grow their organization’s value within their community.

It’s no secret that the industry itself is at a crossroads right now, which means that maximizing your learning and networking opportunities is key. Going into the multi-day event with a game plan and a few overarching goals in terms of what specific information you want to glean from NRPA’s collection of experts is crucial to you getting the most out of your trip to this year’s conference.

To help get you set for NRPA, here’s our to-do list, comprised of items you should take into consideration before, during and after next week’s annual Parks and Recreation gathering:


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Make Sure You and Your Team Are on the Same Page

The preparation for attending an event of this size and scope should start long before you board the plane or get behind the wheel and travel to Indianapolis. Your agency faces its own unique challenges on a day-to-day basis, therefore what you and your staff will want to get out of the conference is going to be different from another person’s list of needs and wants.

Prior to attending NRPA this year, you must first establish some goals. These can include, but are not limited to, some of these examples:

  • What topics do you want to learn about while you’re there?
  • What solutions to key issues are you looking to gain insight on?
  • If multiple team members are attending the conference, does everyone sign up for the same talks/work sessions? Or do you split up and debrief each other afterward?

Know that there are no right or wrong answers here – it’s all about what you believe will work best for your organization. What’s important is to make sure that everyone from your agency who is planning on attending the 2018 NRPA conference is operating with the same common goals in mind. There’s no room for anyone going rogue and not using their time efficiently.

Business people networking in person

Create a Shared Document for Notetaking

This is an often-overlooked step but one I believe is critical to a successful stay at the NRPA event. Not only should you and everyone else in attendance be taking notes while absorbing information at a talk or education session but aggregating those notes into one streamlined document is absolutely essential.

With cloud-based software like Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Dropbox and so on, saving everyone’s notes in one place is easier than ever before, so there’s no excuse to not be doing so. Even if you prefer to take handwritten notes in the moment, while you’re listening to someone speak, make sure you take the time to transfer those thoughts or epiphanies over to a shared digital space later that day.

Don’t wait until you get back from NRPA either, because some of the loose thought strands that appear in your notes may fade into the ether beforehand. Saving those notes online while you can still give them the proper context will ensure a smoother process of turning those ideas into action items that can help your organization grow in your community.

Know Where You’re Going and Whom You Want to Network With

Besides establishing common goals in terms of what you and your staff members want to get out of the NRPA conference, you should also construct a plan that breaks down what sessions you’re dying to attend and, perhaps even more importantly, specific individuals you’re dying to talk to.

Do yourself a favor and look at the schedule for the event in detail before you set foot inside the venue. This will help you prioritize certain talks and/or speakers over others and sort out any potential scheduling conflicts ahead of time. For example, what happens if two sessions that you feel are important take place at the same time? Can someone else from your agency attend on your behalf? If you’re flying solo, which session is more important to check out?

The same principles apply to any networking opportunities that you deem vital to your NRPA experience. Make sure your schedule allows enough time to work the room a little bit and pick the brains of professionals who you feel have some important insight to offer. If possible, get in touch with said people before the conference (hello LinkedIn) and book appointments with them in advance. This way, when you’re ready to network, most of the work is already done for you.

Businesswoman getting advice

Take Time to Visit with Current Colleagues and New Players

This year’s NRPA event is not just about reconnecting with old friends and colleagues but also for meeting the new “kids” on the block. The conference isn’t just for professionals in the industry either; many vendors from the tech and business spheres will also holding court at their respective booths, which means there’s no better time to broaden your agency’s horizons with a little exploration.

If you’re already working with an external company, such as an Amilia-style software provider, reconnecting with them at NRPA is a great way to get the lowdown on what’s new with their product and even exciting developments that are in the pipeline but not necessarily public yet.

If you’re looking to make a change, it’s also the perfect opportunity to meet some of the major organizations serving the industry, especially those newer to the game. They’re usually the hungriest and most willing to get to know your agency on a more human level, so take advantage of it. Who knows – the last (or most important) piece of the puzzle for your organization’s growth could be ready and waiting for you at an NRPA booth.


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Enjoy the Team Bonding NRPA Affords You

When you attend this or any other conference, remember to leave some time aside for team bonding outside the confines of the event. You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy food, drinks and even a little bit of a given city’s nightlife in addition to work commitments – something that can be excellent for getting to know colleagues or even friends from other agencies beyond just their job descriptions.

Networking when everyone’s in a more casual setting and potentially letting their collective hair down a little could also be very productive from a relationship cultivation standpoint. At the end of the day, making well-rounded connections with Parks and Recreation pros can pay dividends long-term for your organizations as well as theirs.

If you want to add certain people to your social networks, work-related or personal, make sure you do so in the moment as much as you can. Taking someone’s card or promising to send them a courtesy email loses its effectiveness if the time delay ends up being a week or more. By connecting with new contacts online right away, you’ll also demonstrate your enthusiasm for the acquaintance and grow that relationship quicker as a result.

Finally, have fun! Take pictures, use the proper hashtags when posting them on social media and use specific organizational handles in order to increase your visibility on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and more. Sharing is caring, so if someone tags you or your agency in a photo or video, make sure you spread that love across your professional social accounts as well.

Professionals networking over coffee 

Attending this year’s NRPA conference is a great learning and networking opportunity but only if you go in prepared. Ensuring that everyone is on the same page and establishing ground rules for notetaking and connecting with individuals or businesses online will go a long way to you and your staff getting the most out of your time at this incredible event.


Before you head to Indianapolis, make sure you’re up to date on how Parks and Recreation agencies are connecting with their communities. Get in-depth statistical details on the state of the industry by downloading our exclusive Nielsen study now!

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