Tips for Your First General Assembly

With over 50 UU Growth Lab members attending GA this year, many for the first time, we’ve been actively sharing tips with each other. The following is the compiled list as of May 15, 2011.  This list is being maintained by the “UU Growth Lab at GA” group on Facebook.  This public version will be updated periodically.

Tips for Your First General Assembly

Before you go:

  • If you’re not flying, bring a water bottle – keep yourself hydrated. If you’re flying, you’ll probably be able to buy a reusable bottle in the Exhibit Hall.
  • If you’re representing your congregation and they have a budget, you might be able to get some good discounts on curricula, books, and marketing materials (banners, postcards, etc.) but remember you’ll have to have a way to get them back.
  • If you are a delegate, READ the stuff before you come.  You are deciding our future. Available here: http://uua.org/ga/business/index.shtml
  • 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.
  • Download & review the Program Guide ahead of time: http://uua.org/ga/programming/18214.shtml
  • Plan out what workshops you want to go to, but don’t be wedded to the idea.  Pick a few you certainly want to go to, but be open because you’ll change your mind at least once while there.
  • Pick a 2nd workshop for timeslots. 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 find your 2nd choice. (Also, at some GAs, the rooms were too small and you could find yourself unable to attend your 1st choice because it was full.)
  • Pack comfy shoes.
  • If you’re asked to carry your congregations banner, figure out how the poles/carrying PVC pipes go together before hand.  I still think my congregation was hazing me last year…
  • 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. http://www.uua.org/ga/registration/accessibility/index.shtml
  • Register as an attendee on the mobile site. It will help people connect with you later: http://eventmobi.com/uuaga2011
  • Save the mobile guide website onto your mobile phone. http://eventmobi.com/uuaga2011
  • 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/introverted type, GA is really kinda 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 friends with people in [the UU Growth Lab at GA]
  • 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 freaking 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. Folks ask questions; be prepared to answer.

While you’re there:

  • 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 do still 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.
  • If you’re on a budget, check out the map for what part of the Exhibit Hall you need to avoid
  • 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.
  • Whatever you do, go to the Service of the Living Tradition on Thursday night & the Sunday morning service.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • There is a Right Relations Team and there are on-call chaplains. If you are in need of emotional or spiritual assistance, grab 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 our faith. Many people in and around the convention center and downtown area will be meeting their first Unitarian Universalists. This is another chance to make a good impression, invite folks to check us out, and show what great community members we can be. Pick up trash. Be kind. Be generous. You are not a tourist. You are not a business conventioneer. You are an ambassador of and for our faith

One comment

  1. Robin Nelson · May 15, 2011

    If you’re flying you can take an *empty* reusable water bottle through security and then fill it with tap water from the water fountain or bathroom sink before you get on the plane!

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