So, since time is your most valuable commodity, let's go through my annual list of things you need to do before the convention and while you're there.
- Why are you going to WPPI? I know that sounds incredibly basic, but some of you go to party, others to buy and more of you to learn and network. Figure out what the most important thing is you want to get out of the show before you get there.
- Take a few minutes and look around your office, studio or the trunk of your car. Isolate every product you use as a photographer, and put the manufacturer on a list. Now look at every company whose services you use. Your lab, frame company, web design, album company etc. should all be on the list. Your first goal BEFORE you get to the show is to isolate every company that's involved in your business.
- Last on the pre-show list, are there products you need for your business or new services you require? One year at WPPI there were 45 album companies exhibiting and probably 25-30 labs. If you're looking for new companies and products, this is the time to go exploring.
- Now hit the WPPI website and get to know who's going to be at the show from your vendor/supplier lists. Your goal is to meet at least one staff member at every company on the list. This is a critical component to building an effective network.
- If you're in early enough, attend print competition. It's one of the most valuable educational experiences you can have. Pick any judging room and just go in and sit down for an hour at least. Listen to the comments from the judges and think about your own work.
- Walk through the print exhibit. This is a terrific time to get a feel for the trends in imaging, because you'll see just about everything in the images submitted for competition.
- There are two main halls for the convention and they're both outstanding, but it's going to be busy and you've got to be organized. Crowd control has never been WPPI's strong suit, so make it a point to start in one aisle and systematically walk the entire show.
- Wear comfortable shoes! The MGM is huge and while it's probably too late for most of you to change rooms, if you're in the Signature Towers, ideally you want to be in Tower 3, closest to the convention center. It's not about the distance you're going to be walking, but the time involved.
- Bring business cards and some images. Personally I've always liked being shown a 5x7 or 6x9 collage of a couple images with the photographer's address and contact information. Unless you've made an appointment in advance, most exhibitors won't take the time to look at a portfolio or an iPad chocked full of images. However, leaving a card stock piece or brochure with a vendor and contacting them after the show can be very effective.
- Make plans for breakfast and dinner meetings NOW. Reservations don't come easy in Las Vegas anymore and if you're going to be headed out for dinner it helps to know where and when you're going.
- Lunch is tougher to do at WPPI, because nothing is close to the convention floor. That doesn't have to be bad, just plan who you're having lunch with and how much time you need. Add 20-30 minutes for just the walk up and back to the food court and restaurants.
- Pay attention to those key vendors who you want to see and what's going on in their booth. For example, I just did a post yesterday on Profoto USA who will have 13 speakers in their booth over the three days. A lot of exhibitors have in-booth programming going on, so it pays to know the schedule in advance.
- You snooze you lose! Look I was young and stupid once too and there are few things as fun as going out with friends and bar-hopping in Las Vegas. However, you're at the show for a reason and if you need to sleep in late the following morning, your evening out with friends might become the most expensive investment you make in the show, if you miss appointments or presentations you had planned to attend.
- Look over the programming. Plan which speakers you want to hear in advance. Plus, always pick at least 1-2 programs completely out of your comfort zone.
- Bring a camera...a real camera. Sure phones are fine, but you want to get some images you might want to use later on for press releases, your blog, Facebook, etc. You don't need your regular gear, but a decent point and shoot will always produce better images than your cell phone. Look for opportunities for pictures with vendors and those speakers you admire.
- Talk to the people around you when you attend any program. A photography convention like this is unique, because you're all there for the same reasons. Make it a point to get to know the people sitting on either side of you. It's amazing what you can learn by just talking to each other.
- Talk to the icons! I'm always amazed by how many of you are intimidated by your favorite photographers. The truth is they're there to teach and meet other photographers interested in their work. Just walk up and introduce yourself and thank them for whatever inspiration they've given you. Honestly, they don't bite!
The one thing I find most frustrating with attendees at a big convention is they simply haven't planned their trip. They got their tickets and made it to Vegas, but then everything falls apart. Plan your WPPI experience so that you're not wasting time and even more important, your money.
Nothing beats the experience of a great trade show and convention, but it's up to you to get the most out of it.