Tips for attending UUA General Assembly 2017 Edition

This collaborative post and “survival guide” features tips and reminders for attending  the annual General Assembly conference of the Unitarian Universalist Association!  Note this edition has information specific to the UUA’s June 21-25, 2017 General Assembly in New Orleans, Louisiana.

This post was first made by a UU Growth Lab brainstorm in 2011 with my updating annually. Have a tip or resource to add?  Share it in a comment at the end of this post.

Share your tips, share this post with fellow UU’s attending for the first time, and I’ll see you at GA!

UUA General Assembly 2017 logo

Follow the UU World’s Coverage:

The staff of the UU World does an amazing job covering General Assembly.  Their GA blog and social media channels are the go to source for in-depth and breaking General Assembly news.

Advance Preparation

To get the most out of this General Assembly, schedule time to dive into these recommended tools to prepare for GA.  These include readings, videos, books and activities.  Don’t wait until the week before. You’ll want to pace yourself to make the most of these resources.

I’m jump starting my preparation by watching the 6 videos featured in this list. GA prep movie night?

Additional Registrations

Note there are these additional opportunities, but they require advance registration.

Before You Go:

  • Plan your life at General Assembly assuming you will not be able to access wi-fi in the convention center.  Internet access is always and issue. Bring critical information and contact numbers with you. If access is good, enjoy!  But be prepared.
  • Order a Standing on the Side of Love yellow shirt if you want to join fellow UUs wearing them while participating in the 2017 GA service projects (advance registration required) and at the Friday, June 23 Public Witness from 5:00 – 7:00pm:
     “GA attendees rally with interfaith partners and community organizations to bring attention to and encourage action on critical social justice issues.”
  • Convention centers, especially the main halls, are usually freezing! Bring a layer you can easily take on and off so you’re okay going from outside to hallways to the general session/plenary ice box.
  • Hydrate! Bring a water bottle. If you’re flying, bring an empty one to fill at a water fountain after you go through security.  You can usually buy a reusable bottle in the Exhibit Hall.
  • If you are a delegate, READ related business materials before you come.  You are deciding our future. Everything delegates need to review is  available here.
  • GA is amazing for network and learning.  Bring business or personal cards so that you can give your information to others.
  • Be sure that someone from your congregation is bringing the banner for the banner parade.
  • Download & review the Program Guide ahead of time.
  • The UUA GA Mobile App is fantastic.  If you have a smartphone, make sure to install it.  It will significantly improve your GA experience.  The GA app page notes: “The 2017 update for the app will be available by June 1.”  This means you can download the app but the program content for this year isn’t live yet.  Plan on exploring and testing the app before you arrive. There are a lot of features. You can choose to follow posts by other attendees, share your own posts tagging which event you’re at, and much more.  The week leading up to GA, try opening the app each day. People will already be posting.
  • Plan out what workshops you want to go to.  Have a tentative choice made for all time slots in advance. You’ll need time between schedule blocks to take care of biological needs, talk to people, and change rooms. You won’t have time to pick as you go.
  • Pick a 2nd workshop for each time slot. You may find that when you arrive at your first choice it’s not what you expected and it will be good to know exactly where to go to get to your 2nd choice.
  • Pack comfy shoes.
  • Bring a bag you can carry comfortably with you at all times, like a shoulder bag or light backpack.
  • If you’re asked to carry your congregations banner during the banner parade, figure out how the poles/carrying PVC pipes go together before hand.  Here are banner specs from the UUA (pdf).
  • “Last year I had a binder where on the back cover I had a map of the area in the plastic cover thing, the front with my delegate card and other really important info, and inside my travel info, the program book, the business resolutions, etc.  It really helped me stay organized throughout.  Put in paper to take notes on, bring pens, etc.  I had that with me in my laptop bag and it was great.”
  • Talk to people in your congregation to find out about resources you can scout out and bring home and questions they might have, especially if your congregation has a very limited budget and will be under-represented by delegates. It is even nicer when you reach out to area congregations if your cluster is composed of smaller, less financially able congregations, and see how you can help.
  • If you can’t walk more than a mile easily, you will want to rent a scooter through GA Accessibility Services. If you often use hearing assistive devices in crowded settings, you will want to use GA Accessibility Services. Better to reserve equipment you turn out not to need than arrive & be blocked from participating because no extra equipment is available.
    GA Accessibility Services. 
  • If you have special dietary requirements, scout out the food vendors before departure and plan well ahead. Make reservations at places that will accept them. Pack extra food if you have really specific needs. It isn’t uncommon to have to wait at GA area restaurants for a long time, or to have relatively few places that can accommodate vegans, folk who need to eat gluten-free, or even offer acceptable fast alternatives for diabetics.
  • Plan a check-in breakfast/lunch/dinner with some people you know at some point.  Even if you’re the independent or introverted type, GA is really overwhelming in the sheer mass of people and having a drink with some familiar faces can be really nice
  • If you are the only one you know going to GA, start making connecting with people via the GA app and on Twitter.  For example, on Twitter you might tweet “Looking forward to _____ at this year’s #UUAGA conference.”  Fill in the blank with what you’re excited about.  By including the #UUAGA hashtag we can find your tweet on Twitter.  On the GA App you can share posts with photos.  You might share a photo of yourself and share what you’re looking forward to and what leadership role(s) you have in your congregation.
  • If you really want to hang out with your former minister that you haven’t seen in ten years, email them now and ask them to breakfast.  They will either say “yes” or “I’d love to talk to you for a minute at some point, but my schedule is totally booked.”  If you wait until GA to ask, the answer will almost certainly be the second one.  Ministers are really busy during GA.  I’ve found that breakfast is the meal they are most likely to be free.
  • Prepare your elevator speech about what Unitarian Universalism is and why you are one. Local folks ask questions; be prepared to answer.

While you’re there:

  • Now that you’ve arrived, remember to HYDRATE!  And take time to eat and pace yourself.  GA is a marathon.
  • You don’t have to go to everything.  And that’s ok.  I ended up skipping things last year, including the Ware Lecture, because I needed a breather.  And dinner.  Besides it will be online.
  • You need to eat.  You’ll need to schedule that in.
  • Attend the orientations, from GA for First Timers to your regional/district ones.  They help.
  • Avoid picking up paper – use digital notes whenever possible (they’re tending toward less paper now any way)
  • Say “Hi” to people & don’t be shy to tell them that you’re a first timer.
  • A great way to meet people is to introduce yourself to people when you sit down in a workshop.  You already know you have a common interest.  Say hello and strike up conversation.
  • Whatever you do, go to the Service of the Living Tradition & the Sunday morning service. See program highlights.
  • Having a meal with other UUs from across the country can sometimes be more valuable than going to a workshop.
  • I was told this by my congregation and it really made a difference for me.  During a general session (previously called plenary) , if you aren’t sure what you’re about to vote on, don’t hesitate to ask for a point of clarification from the procedure microphone.  Because if you don’t know what you’re voting on, at least 100 other people there don’t know either.
  • There’s this GA tradition that I don’t fully get – getting as many possible ribbons from booths to hang from the bottom of your nametags.  When you check in, at least last year, you even got some “coupons” to take to certain booths to get certain ribbons.  I just followed the crowd on that one.
  • Wear comfy shoes.
  • GA volunteers are often wearing specific shirts or pinnies that identify them easily. They’re there to help you. GA is really possible because of the kindness and support our volunteers give.
  • If you are in need of emotional or spiritual assistance, if you experience any kind of harassment, talk to any shirted GA volunteer and ask them to help you be connected with either the Right Relations Team or the chaplains.
  • You are an ambassador of Unitarian Universalism!
    Many people in and around the convention center will be meeting their first Unitarian Universalists.   While at General Assembly, bring your best self and make living our values an intentional practice.  Sore feet because you forgot your comfy shoes is not an excuse.  Be kind. Be generous. Smile. Pick up trash. You are not a tourist. You are not a business conventioneer. You are an ambassador of our faith.

Joining the GA Choir

  • If you love to sing, GA Choir is your cup of tea. Rarely do we belong to congregations that can boast so many great voices or musicians.
  • Pre-registration for the 2017 Choir  is required. Onsite choir sign-up only occurs if space is available.

Get on Twitter!

  • GA is a great time to get on Twitter.  You’ll be surrounded by people to give you advice and amazing content to tweet about.  The following video was made before the 2014 GA in Providence. The process and tips all still apply, just know that the GA specific examples are now from that past GA.  It will get you up and running in 20 minutes.  Just make sure you go to GA in the right city – New Orleans!

Play with Video!

  • Going to film video at GA with your smartphone? Checkout my video tips page. Whether you are tweeting or sharing on Facebook or another platform, GA can be a great place to record videos.  If you are at GA with a team, you might take turns filming video updates from GA.

Getting Around

Tourism / Local Information

Have a tip or related resources to share?  Add it in a comment on this post or in response to where I’ve shared this post on Twitter or Facebook.  Thanks! Peter

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