While it has been close to two years since I opened a Twitter account, it has been about a year since I have been active on Twitter.   I love Twitter!  It is the fastest, most effective way I have found to browse information that interests me and connect with other professionals.  Twitter has been an instrumental resource in elevating my passion and understanding of my profession to a whole new level.  Thank you Twitter!

I must say, however, that one of the most difficult things for me to grasp about Twitter was the #hashtag.  Trying to figure out what #FF means is a day I will not forget.  I was so confused, but once I learned the concept and how to effectively use hashtags, I was off to the races.  In my work, I have found two major areas in which hashtags have helped the most. 

(1)  Network and learn what is happening in your profession:  Along with dozens of other attendees of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) National Conference last week, I tweeted what I learned from speakers and colleagues throughout the event using the #NACE11 hashtag. Twitter and the hashtag brought the conference to those who could not attend the event, and I found great use in the hashtag search in learning what others were hearing.  This hashtag alone strengthened my connection with fellow Tweeters and those not attending.  My grade for the #NACE11 hashtag is an A+!

(2)  Join others in chats on the jobsearch:  Some of the best trending hashtags for job seekers include:  #career, #jobsearch, #jobseeker, #resume, #coverletters and the list goes on and on.  However, you can also find the best job search discussions with hashtags for professional chats.  Some of my favorite chats to follow include:  #internchat, #tchat, #hfchat and #careerchat. 

Using hashtags to get connected to conversations and information also helps you identify key people and organizations to follow.  Professional activity with Twitter and the use of hashtags can have a positive domino effect in your professional development and increase your business network.  Try it—you’ll like it.  Trust me!

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My favorite time of the year of professional development is upon me.  I am getting ready to attend the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) National Conference in Dallas next week.  What a great time to connect with current friends and colleagues and meet new ones in both the career services and college recruiting family.  I return home from this conference every year with great new contacts, pages of notes, tons of energy and somehow a great sense of relaxation as well.   As you prepare for any professional development conferences this year, please follow these 6 musts:

1.  Join pre-conference conversations through the organization website or Twitter.  Start connecting with those who are attending the conference which builds energy for the event and offers opportunities to schedule side-meetings as well.  I also love that Twitter allows non-attendees a way to stay connected to the event.  In today’s economy, many organizations are tightening financial belts and Twitter has helped keep those not attending as connected as possible. 

2.  Plan your schedule.  Research the keynote presenters and know which breakout sessions and receptions you will be attending.  By planning your schedule, you have an idea what your expected outcome will be for the event.  You have heard the saying “plan your work and work your plan” so make sure you know what you are doing to do during the conference and then go do it.   

3. Never Eat Alone:  Not to steal the title of Keith Ferrazzi’s best-selling book, but this concept should be the first commandment of attending conferences.  Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with someone else attending the conference.  I even suggest you split your dining time between current and new colleagues. 

4. Followup with people after the conference:  Warren Barhorst, author of Game Plan, talks about acting within 72 hours of learning something new.  Either send emails or handwritten notes within 72 hours of returning home from a conference.  Collecting business cards does not do a bit of good if you are only going to take them back your office and stuff them into a drawer. Take the time to connect with the person you met or a colleague you hadn’t seen in a long time.  

5.  Send thank you notes to the organizers and speakers.  If you have ever planned an event or spoken at a conference, you know the amount of time put into producing the product.  Send notes to those who invested so much in making sure your experience was fulfilling. 

6.  Share what you learned with your co-workers and fellow members who could not attend.  Chances are, you gather some amazing nuggets of information and innovative ideas at your conference.  Bring it home and share.  Ask you coworkers to have lunch with you on your first day back to the office when your energy is high so you can share what you learned.  Tweet or blog about what you learned so that those who couldn’t attend or potential new members to the organization can grasp a piece of the experience.     

The purpose of professional conferences is to share information.  Make the most of your experience and do the same.