Every year I share a post like this with a long list of things to prepare in advance. Time is your most valuable commodity, so why not make the most of it? So many of you just register for a convention and then go - never thinking about why, what you want to see, who you want to meet or how the trip can help build your business!
Let's go through the annual list of things you need to do before any convention and then what you should be doing while you're there.
- Why are you going? I know this 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 and put the manufacturer on your hit 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 involved in your business.
- Are there products you need for your business or new services you require? One year at WPPI, for example, 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.
- Visit the websites for the conventions you're going to attend. 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 your list. This is a critical component of building an efficient network.
- If the convention offers a chance to attend print judging - JUST DO IT! It's one of the most valuable educational experiences you can have. Pick any judging room and sit down for an hour at least. Listen to the comments from the judges and think about your 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.
- Have a plan for walking the trade show. It's great to hop around to your favorite companies, but you tend to miss so many exhibitors. Start in one aisle and do a walk-through of the entire trade show. Then go back to your list and hit the companies most important to you. Some of the smallest exhibitors often have products and services that can be business-changing!
- Wear comfortable shoes! No matter what convention is on your schedule, you're going to be on your feet all day - every day.
- Bring business cards and some images. Personally, I've always liked being given a 5x7 or 6x9 collage of images with the photographers 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 nice cardstock piece or brochure with a vendor and contacting them after the show can be very useful.
- Make plans for breakfast and dinner meetings NOW. Reservations don't come easy, no matter where you're going. Even if you don't have plans yet, make a reservation or two just to have when you meet with friends. I was shocked to have a hard time getting reservations two weeks in advance for IUSA for a couple of dinners I was setting up.
- Don't miss an opportunity to grab lunch with friends or people you've met at the show, etc. Lunch is the perfect way to network, which is why I've referred to myself for years as the industry's biggest lunch slut! Even if it's just a hot dog off the trade show floor, it's the perfect way to meet somebody new.
- Pay attention to those key vendors who you want to see and what's going on in their booth. A lot of exhibitors have in-booth programming, so it pays to know the schedule in advance.
- You snooze you lose! I was young and stupid once too, and there are few things as fun as going out with friends and bar-hopping, especially in cities like Nashville and 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 becomes the most expensive investment made 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 a few programs entirely out of your comfort zone.
It's a place of no growth and no challenges."
- Bring a real camera. Sure phones are fine, but you want to get some images you might want to use later for press releases, your blog, Facebook, etc. You don't need your regular gear, but even 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. They only bite if you're rude and interrupt them when they're talking with somebody else. Wait your turn, and the opportunity to add one of your favorite artists to your network will arrive.
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 the convention, but then everything falls apart. Plan your travel experiences, so 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.
P.S. If you're headed to IUSA this weekend, Most of the time Sheila and I will be in Panasonic's LUMIX Lounge. Stop by and say hello.