Expert tips to navigate ONA22, especially as a first-timer

If ONA22 will be your first time attending an ONA conference, this guide is for you! But even for longtime members of the ONA community, it can take some planning to get ready for our annual gathering. Gather tips on what to pack, building your schedule, networking and more.

We often hear from attendees that coming to ONA feels like coming home, and we want to help you find your people during your conference experience, too — whether you’re attending in Los Angeles or virtually.

Packing for Los Angeles

Get your bag ready with all the gear you’ll need to have a productive and fun time on site. There’s no dress code. Most attendees tend to dress business casual, and jeans are common. Have a light sweater or blazer on hand for a cooler event space, and for outdoor receptions on the pool deck, where it tends to get breezy. 

Comfortable shoes are a must for getting between sessions and events as well as exploring Los Angeles. Don’t forget masks to last you the week and proof of COVID-19 vaccination, which are required (make sure you note all the health and safety requirements and procedures ahead of time). Also consider packing business cards, a notebook and pen for jotting down notes and a refillable water bottle for hydrating in sunny L.A.

We’ve noticed people tend to dress up a bit more at the Online Journalism Awards Ceremony (Sept. 24, 7–9 p.m. PDT). For this evening all about celebrating journalism excellence, you may want to pack attire that’s somewhere between business and informal wear — it’s a notch above business casual, but there’s no requirement to be in a dark suit or semi-formal dresses. You can expect to see some sports jackets and ties, nice slacks, little black dresses, fun cocktail dresses and the like. Check out a photo gallery from our 2019 celebration to get a feel for the event.

Building your schedule

With about 80 sessions and workshops to choose from, just figuring out where to be can be overwhelming. Our best tip? Pick a few top sessions that are absolute must-sees, and construct your ideal day-to-day around them.

Once you’ve identified your top sessions, consider picking a couple that have nothing to do with your specialty. Attendees often say those sessions are the ones that end up sticking with them the longest, or changing the way they thought about another problem in their work. Consider joining a session that covers something you’ve always been interested in, but don’t know a lot about. Let serendipity guide you!

A few more tips on scheduling:

  • Take note if an event requires an RSVP (they’ll be denoted on the schedule) and reserve your spot early if you’re planning to attend.
  • Can’t decide between two concurrent sessions? You can make a post-conference learning plan and not feel like you need to attend everything in real time. Look for the screen and audio icons on the schedule — those denote sessions we plan to record by video and/or audio and make available on-demand later. 
  • Where you can, leave flexibility for breaks and “hallway conversations” — the name longtime ONAers give to those deep-dive chats that happen between session rooms with a new or familiar face. These conversations can often lead to lasting inspiration, future colleagues or collaborators, so embrace the opportunity to nerd out when you have it!

In Los Angeles, plan to arrive early to get a great seat and talk to your neighbors — your favorite topics are bound to attract others who are interested in the same issues, and they may be good people to follow up with after the conference. The same idea goes for you virtual attendees: Join the chat alongside the session livestream to meet others with similar interests and to hear new perspectives on the topic.


Repeat conference attendees tell us what makes ONA so special, besides the stellar programming, is the opportunity to reconnect with new and old colleagues year after year. Typically an ONA conference includes about 50% first-timers and 50% returning attendees, so if it seems like everyone knows what they’re doing, keep in mind that you’re not alone as a newbie! The ONA tradition of handing out buttons for the number of conferences attended will help you identify other first-timers and people who have joined us before. If you see someone with a 10+ button, introduce yourself and ask them what keeps them coming back!

Closer to the conference, you will get access to our event platform where you can see who else is attending, find people with similar interests and message them one-on-one.

Be present

Many of us are juggling lots of priorities, at work and elsewhere. But as much as you can focus your attention on the conference, you’ll thank yourself later. Whether you’re sitting in person or joining virtually, resist the temptation to check email during that session you’ve been looking forward to all year and your brain will retain the information better. You’ve invested your time and energy in attending this event, and you’ll get the most out of that investment if you focus on your time here.

Don’t take our word for it…

Need to hear from a few ONA veterans about their best tips for first-timers? We still love this conversation with former ONA Board members Benét Wilson and Robert Hernandez and current Board member Imaeyen Ibanga from ONA18’s official conference podcast, ONA On Air. They share lots of great tips that still ring true today, and you’ll get a sense for the fun and friendly vibe that you’ll soon get to know and love at the ONA conference.