The UUA’s General Assembly conference is this month, June 19-23, in Spokane, WA!
It is time to prepare, and if this is your first time, make sure to checkout these tips for having a great conference. If you aren’t attending the conference on-site, learn how to participate off-site.
This collaborative post and “survival guide” features tips and reminders for attending the annual General Assembly conference of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I’ve been collecting tips and compiling since 2011.
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.
The Official Hashtag
The official hashtag for the UUA’s General Assembly conference is #UUAGA. There is NO year in the tag. Every year a handful of UUs get stuck following the wrong hashtag because someone tweeted the hashtag and inserted the year. There is no year. The hashtag is #UUAGA.
UUA Board “What to Expect” Webinar
Get the Offical General Assembly App!
The UUA GA Mobile App is fantastic. If you have a smartphone, make sure to install it. It will significantly improve your GA experience. It serves as a conference specific social media platform. Don’t see people posting about GA on Facebook or Twitter? Yeah, that’s because much of it goes into the app.
Get it now! People are already posting. And 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.
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.
- 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. Visit the UUA’s page with information for delegates.
- GA is amazing for network and learning. Bring business or personal cards so that you can give your information to others.
- Consider leaving a copy of critical email, social media, and other passwords / pins with a family member or trusted friend. If you lost your smartphone and had to login to email via a public computer, would you be able to?
- Be sure that someone from your congregation is bringing the banner for the banner parade.
- This year GA has a “role based” track of programming. Explore the 2019 Role-Based Track Programming being offered.
- 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. There is an amazing collection of resources available in the exhibit hall, including books from the UUA Bookstore.
- Use General Assembly as an opportunity to connect with leaders in congregation near you. You can use the GA App to network. You might even reach out to your neighboring UU congregations in advance.
- 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 don’t know anyone 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 spend time with someone you haven’t seen in ten years, email them now and ask to get together. You don’t need to finalize plans now, but many people plan how they are using meals in advance. When you ask 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.”
- Prepare your Unitarian Universalism elevator speech. Local folks ask questions; be prepared to answer. What’s a Unitarian Universalist? What’s your conference about?
While you’re at General Assembly
- 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).
- 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 Ware Lecture and the Sunday morning service. See program highlights.
- Don’t miss the Synergy Bridging Service! We’re the only denomination that honors the transition from youth to young adulthood at our annual assembly.
- Bill Moyer and the Backbone Campaign (this is NOT Bill Moyers of TV fame) are going to be attending GA, helping to make art and participate in the “Procession of the Species” that the UU Ministry for Earth is organizing. This should be amazing! Learn more.
- Having a meal with other UUs from across the country can sometimes be more valuable than going to a workshop. Prioritize relationships.
- 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.
Twitter and General Assembly
- GA is a great time to get on Twitter! There are so many amazing things to tweet about and thousands of people on hand to give you tips. Sign up at Twitter.com. It is quick and easy.
- You can choose a username that you want to just for now as you get get started or one you plan on using long term. You can change your username any time.
- Make sure to add some information to your bio before you start following lots of people. People are more likely to follow you back if they know who you are or what you are tweeting about. I follow anyone back who follows me provided I can tell they are interested in Unitarian Universalism or self identify as a UU.
- Once you have your account created, follow me at @uuplanet as well as the @UUA, @UUWorld, and the @UUSC. Once you follow the four of us, Twitter will start giving you UU recommendations for other UU accounts to follow.
- Hashtags are words or phrases (with no spaces) included in tweets starting with a hashmark #. These become active links you can click and use hashtags to follow public conversations. Check out the UU Hashtag Directory for ideas of hashtags you might use.
- I want you to use hashtags like a UU Twitter Ninja at #UUAGA! To help, the video above is an excerpt from a recent Twitter Strategy session for my Leading Congregations Monthly program members. The strategies in the video can be used throughout the year, as well as General Assembly.
- UPDATE: Someone asked why the focus on Twitter? Because GA is a fantastic opportunity for sharing who we are, what we value, and how we are putting our values into action. I view it as the ultimate Twitter training ground for Unitarian Universalists! You have compelling things to tweet, time to do it, and a supportive peer community.
Have a tip or related resources to share? Comment on this post. Thanks! Peter