OWAA Conference 2009: A first-timer's perspective

Looking into my rearview mirror, I’d say it was money very well spent. I became a new OWAA active member in February 2009. Information on the annual conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., was immediately forthcoming. Like anyone watching his nickels and dimes, I hesitated. After making the decision to attend, I was determined to squeeze every possible benefit out of my attendance. I was not disappointed.
Registration by mail was easy and confirmation was prompt. Additionally, conference information available on the OWAA Web site made it easy to make specific plans in advance of arriving at the conference. The facilities at the host hotel were excellent. The Amway Grand Plaza is truly a very nice place. The OWAA headquarters staff was quite helpful and cheerfully answered all my first-timer questions.
For someone who has written a relatively small number of articles over a long period of time, my goal was to gain insight into expanding my writing into areas other than fishing. The opening-day four-hour session, “On Becoming an Outdoors Communicator,” should be mandatory for all outdoor writers looking to expand their efforts. It was invaluable. Tom Huggler’s session on “Beyond Hook and Bullet Writing” was exactly what I was looking for. Climate change as it refers to fisheries is a topic very near and dear to me, so the session on “Fish in Hot Water” was a real eye-opener.
I’m somewhat of a photography neophyte making that first jump from digital point and shoot to an SLR-type camera. Attending as many photography sessions as possible and listening to the likes of Jack Ballard, Jim Foster, Tom Ulrich and my mentor James T. Smith improved my learning curve by a bunch. I’ll be much better informed when I make purchases in the near future.
Having written a number of layman versions of technical fisheries research-type articles for the general fishing public, the session “Science for the Public and the Outdoor Writer” was exactly what I was looking for. Finally, if I had a best of show, it would have to be Wayne van Zwoll’s session on “Making Money from Small Publications.” It was packed with good, relevant and not always easily obtained information.
One thought will remain with me and that was the willingness of everyone to talk to me. People saw my green ribbon from a distance away and literally intercepted me to introduce themselves. If you did not make many new friends and contacts at this conference, as well as develop a number of new article ideas, you simply were not trying very hard. The willingness to share and help was evident from beginning to end.
So, you’re thinking of becoming a first-timer in Rochester, Minn., in June 2010? Let me share some friendly advice: Go, you will not be disappointed! Bring at least half a box of business cards – I almost ran out. Walk around with your arm in the hand-shaking position. People from all walks of the business are genuinely interested in meeting you and helping you anyway they can. Back away from the table once in a while. If you eat everything served, you will gain five pounds during the conference.
Study the agenda before you get to the conference. The schedule is packed and you’ll need to prioritize, since you can’t be in two places at once. The literature and pressroom area offers a treasure trove of great information that could be important to you in the future. Consider bringing an empty box or a flat-rate postal box if you are flying. Take good notes at all sessions you attend. Each one is full of good information, story ideas and contact information. Finally, remember to follow up when you get home.
This conference will be paying me back until I get to Rochester next year. ◊
SteveBudnikSteven Budnik, of Winchester, Wis., is a periodic freelance writer and field editor for Muskie Magazine, a speaker at various muskie fishing clubs and chapters and an organizer of the Muskellunge Research Symposium. He also writes fishing and boating promotional materials and is a youth fishing instructor.

By Steve Budnik
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