Top 10 ways to make the most of an OWAA conference

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Drawing hundreds of media members and some of the industry’s brightest stars — and offering innumerable workshops, seminars and activities — the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) conference, taking place September 9-11, 2023 in Gulf Shores, Alabama can be the most fun and rewarding event you’ll attend all year. It also can seem a bit overwhelming. Whether it’s your first OWAA conference or your 20th, the following tactics can help make the OWAA conference an invaluable investment. 

Plan ahead

Before you travel, check out the conference website. Review the agenda. Highlight can’t miss sessions and speakers. Register for workshops. Capacity is limited, and your top picks might fill up quickly! Reach out to OWAA staff members directly by emailing if you have specific questions. OWAA staff are an invaluable resource, both pre-conference and on-site. 

Get a guide or be one yourself.

Through OWAA’s mentor programColleen Miniuk can get you connected with a trusted coach to help you make the most of the conference: sharing knowledge, making introductions and offering insider info. Are you a conference veteran? Volunteer as a mentor yourself and guide a newcomer. All of us longtime OWAAers can recall a member — or several members — who extended a welcoming hand at our first conference. It’s part of the OWAA ethos! Interested in learning more? Find a detailed explanation of OWAA’s new Mentorship Program on our website under the Members Only Area/Member Resources.

Colleen can answer any questions you might have about how to participate in this exciting program either as a mentor or mentee—or both! Email her at

Arrive early. Stay late.

Take some time to explore Alabama. Better yet — collect materials for your next story! Closer to the conference, the OWAA website will feature a diverse menu of Gulf Shores, Alabama adventures in its listings of pre- and post-conference trips. 

Make it to breakfast

Tempted to skip breakfast and sleep in? Don’t do it! OWAA conference breakfasts are traditionally where some of the most compelling, memorable speakers are scheduled. It’s also a great time to get your bearings and plot out your plans for the day. 

Attend a workshop

OWAA’s craft improvement workshops offer in-depth seminars on a range of topics. Workshop leaders are pros, and small group size enables plenty of one-on-one interaction and discussion on topics like outdoor filmmaking, how to publish your book, how to create TikTok videos and how to build your freelance client roster. What about landing a gig as an artist in residence or understanding how to increase representation in your work without tokenizing? These are just some of the topics covered during OWAA conference workshops. 

Leave conference with new skills in outdoor communication as a professional outdoor media professions to enrich your work and make you money back home.  Each workshop will only have a max of 10 people, so register early in 2023 when registration opens. 

Follow current events for new story leads

What’s happening in Congress to conserve critical grasslands habitat? How are big-game migration corridors being managed in the West? Take a deep dive into the most pressing issues currently facing our fish and wildlife, lands and waters, and outdoor opportunities during the newsmaker panels scheduled for Gulf Shores. Learn from the pros, score quotes from experts and frame out your next story. 

Breakout … of the seminar room

Take advantage of the opportunities to get outside! Attend Breakout Day where you’ll be able to meet with brands, get to learn the latest about their products and demo gear. Learning — as outdoor communicators know all too well — doesn’t always happen indoors.

Get to know the supporters

OWAA supporting companies and organizations are coming to Gulf Shores to get to know you — individual members who can help tell their stories. And the relationships you can build here can pay dividends far into the future. Take time to visit the booth displays, talk to company reps at Breakout Day, and drop by hospitality suites for some of the most substantive and entertaining conversations you’ll have at conference.

Get inspiration from Excellence in Craft Contest winners

Winners of OWAA’s annual Excellence in Craft contest are announced and celebrated at the conference. Recognition of achievements by your peers can be enormously gratifying; in addition, many OWAA members finance part or all their conference expenses with their contest winnings. Didn’t have time to enter the 2022 contest? Sit back at the awards presentation (a perennial conference highlight), hear about the notable work done by your fellow members and plot how you’ll dominate the EIC contest in 2023.

In addition, if you see a winning entry that piques your interest and the winner is in attendance, connect with them! Ask them behind-the-scenes questions or simply chat about their experience. Be a conversation starter. We can all learn from each other. 


Get out of your comfort zone to create networking opportunities with other outdoor media professionals. Connect with attending editors and seek out others in your field. Are you a wildlife photographer? Start conversations with other wildlife photographers. Learn from them. Get their contact information.

Through networking, you can find new opportunities to sell your work and hone your communication skills. 

Go the extra mile and introduce yourself. Take notes. And keep contact information organized so you can easily access key information when you’re back home. And most of all, follow up! Take action after the conference and utilize your new connections. 

We’ll all be ready for some fun, camaraderie and hands-on learning in May. OWAA conference is your chance to acquire new skills, gain new contacts, grow professionally… and have fun doing it. We’re looking forward to seeing you in Casper!

— Katie McKalip has spent two decades working in media and conservation policy and is currently communications director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

Not yet an OWAA member? Learn more about all of the member benefits today, and see which membership level is right for you. 

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