Business conventions, trade shows and conferences hold a place in the public imagination as events where careers can be ruined by an untimely rendezvous with a co-worker, a hooker or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. But if approached strategically, conventions can offer a prime opportunity for career advancement. With a bit of discipline, conventioneers can mix fun with landing contacts, learning the latest industry developments and getting the wheels turning on new deals.
“In these events, the playing field is leveled. There’s no one you should not or could not be speaking to,” says Amy Ogden, p.r. director at Gable Public Relations and a longtime convention goer.
“Go for the high-hanging fruit. They’re in the same room as you are. And people are a little less on guard.”
To help you make the most of the opportunity, @work interviewed convention veterans for tips on how to successfully navigate the floor. Read on for their advice about which presenters to talk to, how eating habits can lose you a job and when a trip to a strip club could enrich more than just the onstage talent.
* Be PREPARED Your convention experience will be much more efficient with a few minutes of preparation.
Get a list of attendees — most conventions are more than willing to share it to help juice attendance — and select the people you want to meet. Then schedule time with them before the big event, says Ogden.
“You’ve got to get bold and reach out in advance and say, ‘Hey, so you’re going to be at this conference. I’m going to be there, too. We should get together.’ Look at it as a relationship-building opportunity,” she says.
And do some prep work on the speakers you’d like to hear and meet, says communications trainer Matt Eventoff, adding that you can research most speakers using a smartphone while waiting at the airport. When your time comes to make an impression after the presentation, you’ll come across as knowledgeable rather than as a fanboy at a sci-fi convention accosting the guy who played Chewbacca in “Star Wars.”
* Overdress. Attending a convention doesn’t require you to dress conventionally. Suit it up to make a good impression.
“Sixty to 80 percent of the people are probably going to be dressed in company golf shirts and slacks or khakis,” says Jordan Rayboy, head of the IT executive recruiting firm Rayboy Insider Search. “If you wear a suit, you’ll be standing out, probably in a good way.”