The American Indian Higher Education Consortium Student Conference, coming up March 16-19, is a great opportunity to build your brand with the tribal colleges. The conference offers events, competitions, and workshops for tribal college students. At least 1,300 students, college administrators, and faculty members are expected to attend. Below are some tips that will help you make an impact as an exhibitor or sponsor.
1) This conference is not about you.
First and foremost, it’s important to keep in mind that this conference is a non-commercialized event organized by the tribal colleges themselves. It’s about the students and their interests. Here you will see events and programs not offered at other conventions. There are traditional hand games and archery, a poetry slam, a powwow, film and art exhibits, and academic competitions. It’s a rare chance to gain insight into the tribal colleges and be a part of the enthusiasm, creativity, and positive energy coming from the students.
2) Keep in touch with the organizers.
Before you come, contact the conference organizers and stay in touch with them so you’ll know about pertinent dates, exhibiting requirements, and other sponsorship opportunities as they develop. The organizers are not only helping to put together the conference, but also have other responsibilities at a tribal college so they will be juggling multiple priorities. Also, by forming good relationships, you may get other insider tips on how to make the conference a success for you and your organization.
3) Focus on building relationships.
While at the conference, focus on making connections with potential students or recruits. Overly aggressive overtures will more often than not turn people away. Yet, sitting behind an exhibit booth and ignoring visitors doesn’t work either. Try to find a balance of being friendly and helpful without being overbearing.
4) Plant seeds for the future.
Keep in mind that students who attend this conference are there to compete, make connections with fellow students, and learn about future opportunities. This is your chance to introduce your organization, network, and plant seeds with students for when they graduate. Chances are the students won’t be coming there with resumés in hand, ready to be recruited on the spot.
5) Get out from behind the exhibit booth.
Attend some of the events. This will help give you context and a larger picture of the conference. Plus you may get to know a few students and faculty members outside of the more structured environment of the exhibit hall.
6) Share what you know.
Hold a workshop giving the attendees more in-depth information on the opportunities your organization offers. Offer some helpful advice on applying for jobs after college, continuing one’s education, or some other relevant topic that’s meaningful for tribal college students.
7) Have a sense of humor.
Anyone in Indian Country will tell you that a humble sense of humor goes a long way.
8) Be flexible.
Sometimes, because of the fluid nature of the conference, organizers will make a last minute change which may not be what you expected as a sponsor or exhibitor. For example, since the conference may not be located in a traditional convention center, booths may be located in an unconventional spot. That is also why it will be important for you to have good working relationship with the conference organizers who can help you navigate the conference’s sometimes shifting terrain.
9) Sponsor a competition.
Consider sponsoring the Tribal College Journal writing, art, and film competition which is an annual mainstay of the AIHEC conference. You will get additional exposure at the conference through an ad or sponsored content in TCJ. You will also get your logo on the contest signage and receive recognition at the awards banquet (one of the highlights of the convention).
Don’t miss a great opportunity to reach out to the tribal colleges and meet the dynamic students, faculty, and staff who are a part of the American Indian higher education movement. Register today, and we look forward to seeing you in Billings!