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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

“Make new friends but keep the old…”

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

Registered Dietitians from Indiana at annual conference

“… one is silver and the other’s gold” – are lines from a song I learned long ago as a Girl Scout. Good advice, especially when attending a professional conference. I’ve attended about 20 of the past 30 conferences (called FNCE) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Each one provides valuable experiences, lessons, and memories. I will remember this year's conference for making connections with dozens of old and new friends. The group photo above is a traditional gathering of folks from Indiana after the opening session.

In last week’s blog, I wrote about the importance of making connections. I promised this week I would share what I learned. Several things…

Timing is everything.

Have you ever noticed how often something goes “wrong” right before a big event? Me too. Two days before the conference I woke up with iritis, an inflamed iris, causing pain and blurry vision. Medication helped tremendously, but I still walked around the conference only seeing “well” with one eye, greatly limiting my ability to see who was approaching me and recognize names and faces. Thankfully, others recognized me and often a familiar voice triggered a name.

On the flip side, “chance” encounters put me in the position to solve problems, run into people looking for me, and reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in decades. Yes, timing is everything. Make the most of it.

Face-to-face is best.

The second big takeaway from this year’s conference is the value of face-to-face encounters. There’s nothing that can take the place of being in a person’s physical presence to make a real connection.

In today’s world, we conduct more and more business virtually. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. It allows people miles apart to collaborate in real-time in ways that would take weeks to accomplish mailing things back and forth. I have written books with editorial teams I have never met and we did our best to connect via phone calls and emails.

This week at FNCE I organized a function for the contributing authors for the Academy’s upcoming book on nutrition communication. Out of the 45+ authors, more than 30 were attending the conference, and 24 were able to meet for lunch. Most of us had never met before and it was such a great way to get better acquainted and build excitement for the work we have ahead of us.

In another reception, I was able to meet several people I had worked with or would be working with but had never met. The opportunity to make contact in person at FNCE was so valuable.

We make a lasting impact on others.

The most treasured lesson learned from the connections I made at FNCE was from the encounters I had with former students and colleagues – throughout the conference – in sessions, in the expo, in hallways, on buses, and especially at our Purdue reception – I had the pleasure of “running into” so many people from the past.

What a joy to catch up on news of professional accomplishments and family additions! It was especially rewarding when they shared something I had taught them years before and how they still remembered it and had put it into practice. There’s nothing that means more to a teacher than to make a lasting impact. What a blessing to have conferences that bring us back together once a year to have the opportunity to reconnect and encourage one another. Let’s connect next year!

In the comments, tell how an in-person connection made a difference for you.

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