2020 has been an interesting and challenging year where so much is different than what was planned or expected. One thing though has remained the same — the resilience, determination, and ingenuity of FFA students, teachers, and staff.
The National FFA officer team and staff have pivoted convention to a virtual format that will be held October 27-29.
So how do you, as a student or a teacher, prepare for a National FFA Convention unlike any other? Mandy Hazlett, associate director of convention & events for National FFA, and Tess Seibel, National FFA 2019-2020 Eastern Region Vice President, have some offerings of advice.
The first step is to shift the mindset surrounding a virtual event. “We’ve realized convention is obviously going to look a lot different than it has in the past, but that doesn’t mean we lose some of the things we love most about the event. We’re just going to experience them in a different way,” said Seibel.
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Even though the 2020 National FFA Convention will be virtual this year, it will still provide opportunities for FFA members across the country to connect and learn with each other.
Those connections were paramount in the planning process explains Hazlett. Within the event, there are going to be connection rooms where FFA members from Alaska to Puerto Rico can gather on a Zoom call with a moderator and discuss certain subject matters. The expo consists of over 140 exhibitors that will have virtual booths and times set aside for live chat with vendors.
Seibel’s advice for students is to be intentional with attempting to build connections, whether that be with students in other chapters or vendors. 2020 has shown that friendships and connections can be built and maintained online (after all, states across the country showed this summer just how effectively a virtual gathering can keep FFA members connected).
“What I’ve learned from my year as a national officer is that we can have incredibly deep and meaningful relationships with people that we have not met,” explained Seibel. “The relationships we develop online can be so important, but we have to invest in them.”
Be prepared to spend time talking with others “at” the event — asking questions, learning about their experiences and making connections. Social media surrounding convention can be a great way to engage with other students by using the convention hashtags (#FFA20 is the biggie).
“While we can’t be dancing together pre-session, we can be encouraging each other via the chat feature or utilizing social media to build each other up,” said Seibel.
Building these connections can really help students make the most out of their virtual convention experience. Another critical step in making the most of the convention is to be prepared.
While the event is open around the clock, students and teachers should have a tentative schedule to have the best possible convention experience. “I would suggest having everything scheduled out for what your day will look like,” said Hazlett.
Some events have set times — sessions, which are live-streamed through RFD-TV, Facebook, and YouTube — connect rooms, business sessions, and exhibitor live chats. Then there are flexible events that can be viewed at your convenience including student and teacher workshops.
The convention schedule can be found on the FFA website and will help build your personal schedule.
“There is a lot of great content in the event and it can get overwhelming if you don’t think about how you want to participate beforehand, either as a group or an individual,” said Hazlett.
With over 140 exhibitors it is vital to plan for the expo as well. Before the live exhibitor chats, explore the expo to set goals of what you would like to accomplish. “Pick the companies you want to talk to and go through their booth,” explained Hazlett. “Every virtual booth has information — videos, pdfs or links. Do homework and research before the live chat. Come up with questions to have ready during the live chat times.”
The interactions in the expo can change the course of a student’s academic or professional career. It can also guide student’s down a path they had not considered before. Because of this, participating in the live chats with exhibitors and having questions prepared is incredibly important but the interaction doesn’t end there.
“Explore the expo, make connections and then most importantly, follow up with those connections,” said Seibel. “If you’re a student like I was, that wasn’t exactly sure where I fit in the agriculture industry then be intentional about investing some quality time in the expo.”
The third way to make sure that students get the most out of the virtual convention is to be engaged. Whether they are participating as an individual in their living room or as a group in the classroom the opportunity to become and remain engaged is there.
“We get out of FFA what we put into it,” said Seibel. “The more we invest in our growth as an individual and the more we take advantage of the opportunities FFA gives us, then the more potentially life-changing experiences will come out of our time in the blue jacket.”
That engagement will look different for everyone, especially this year, but it is important to remember that the ability to have a successful and beneficial convention experience is in the hands of the attendees.
To learn more about registration or the event read this article from National FFA.
“Fall is not fall without the National FFA Convention, we believe the virtual convention is a great way to still be engaged with other students across the country,” said Hazlett.
Michelle Bufkin is a freelance communication specialist whose goal is to help producers bridge the farm-to-plate knowledge gap that exists with consumers today. She uses her full-time position as the Membership and Communication Director at the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association to interact with producers and work on building that connection.
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