As part of NLC's continuing efforts to promote youth participation in local government, municipal officials are encouraged to bring youth (ages 15-18 years old) with them to the 2013 Congress of Cities as youth delegates. The conference will be held November 14-16 in Seattle, WA. Below is advice for youth delegates to make the most of conference participation.
For those of you who have never been to a conference before, they can be really fun events. They are large gatherings of people who come together to learn about a specific topic or topics. This conference is a great opportunity to meet youth and adults who care about a lot of the same things you do. Most participants in the Congress of Cities will be adults, although we expect about 100 youth delegates ages 15-18. While this is not a youth conference, there will be several sessions of interest to youth, including some in which youth are active participants or even panelists. Youth are welcome in all workshops and sessions just like other delegates. The following guidelines may help you make the most of the conference.
This means speaking up during big group sessions, asking questions during panels, and introducing yourself to other youth and adult delegates. Although this may feel awkward if there aren't many young people around, other youth, your chaperone, and other adults will support you. Wear your youth delegate ribbon proudly. If you don't receive one with your conference materials when you register, ask for one.
Connect with local elected officials from your city and state
Ask your chaperone to arrange a meeting with local elected officials from your city. Even if you already know them and meet with them regularly, this conference is a special opportunity to connect and discuss issues of concern while you are both away from your everyday duties.
Each state has a state municipal league, which represents municipalities in that state. Seek out and attend appropriate state league events, such as state breakfasts. You don't have to do it by yourself - bring a friend! What better opportunity to help city officials learn about youth participation?
Collect business cards and pins
Collect as many as possible. Use the backs of business cards to write any notes about the person you may forget. Also, many city officials have city pins and will be glad to share with you. See if your city has a city pin, and if you can take a supply to use for trading.
Be a team
Being visible and making friends all the time is hard work. You may want to pick a buddy. It means that sometimes you're going to need to sit next to each other and encourage each other to speak up. Remember you are part of a team and that you can depend on each other.
The dress is "business casual." Suits are not required. For both girls and boys, wear slacks instead of jeans; sweaters are fine. Because it may be warm in the convention center and chilly outside, dressing in layers is a good idea.
Be on time
A large conference runs best when it follows the printed schedule. Although no one takes attendance, you don't want to miss anything.
Initiate and volunteer
Sometimes you may be asked to make a presentation or report back about a small group discussion or take notes for a group. Be helpful and volunteer at every opportunity. Speak up during big group sessions; adults and your peers want to hear what you have to say. Ask questions during panels, particularly if something isn't clear.
Be courteous during sessions and presentations
Give your full attention to workshop panelists and session speakers, and listen to your fellow youth delegates when they are presenting or asking questions. Wouldn't you want the same courtesy from other delegates if you were the one presenting? If you need to answer a call or check your email, step outside of the session room or wait until there is a scheduled break.
Debrief at the end of the day
It will be useful to get together as a group at least once a day (with other youth or adults from your city or with your new friends) to share highlights and talk about how your day has gone. This is particularly useful in such a large conference. Use your time to share what sessions were good and what topics were hard to understand, and remember that your participation is critical.
Appreciate the work that people have done to make this event happen. Make an effort to say thank you to everyone from NLC leaders to the person who served you lunch or staffed the registration table. In particular, thank the youth and adult panel members at workshops.
Manage your money
Find out which expenses like taxis, food, or calls home will be covered by your sponsoring city or organization. Save receipts because you may need them. Bring some cash for personal spending money.
This advice for youth and adults is based in part on material prepared by Youth on Board. Youth on Board and other local and national resources and programs are described in NLC's action kit on Promoting Youth Participation.