The Secret to Rocking Your First Convention

Conventions! Workshops! Boot camps! They are an investment in yourself and your small business. They are also so-much-fun to attend, a little over whelming and also a pretty big expense. Once you commit to attending a national convention a little panic might set in. Am I right? Today I outline THE secret to rocking your first convention and squeezing everything you can out of the conference experience.

Personally, I budget for one intensive workshop or professional convention per year as my ongoing education. Everything from the flight & hotel to the fees are tax deductible, so it also helps my bottom line in tangible ways. AKA taxes owed. As a professional photographer, typically my convention of choice is either the WPPI Conference or PPA’s Imaging USA. Last year, I opted for a photographer’s safari in South Africa instead! All of which was a tax deduction as an education expense. Score! Bucket list item as tax deduction.

Tax deductions are awesome, however I also attend national conferences and boot camp workshops for photographers in order to make friends in the industry. Professional networking allows me to form lifelong business friendships (“bizships”) with people who are not direct competition in my field. They make for an amazing sounding board for new ideas and I can be more authentic about my day to day entrepreneur struggles with these colleagues.

secret tips for attending your first convention as an attendee

When I attended the WPPI Photography Convention in Las Vegas in 2010, I met Allana Taranto a Boston photographer. She and I hit it off on the eco-friendly front and see each other regularly when I am in Boston. We have also traveled to Mexico together for our own photography workshop! Together we discuss the trends in our wedding photography industry, branding hacks and I’ve taught her the joys of wedding album sales techniques. Due to this invaluable “bizship”, we both have hired the other to come to our local photography groups to teach photography business related classes.

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Top Wedding Photographer Heather McKay gives a workshop to Boston photographers about how to create and sell wedding albums at the Boston PUG

Are you a weekend warrior who is building a side hustle? Yeah, I’ve been there. It can be hard to commit the financial outlay for a national convention for what your spouse or family calls a ‘hobby’. Ironically, the first step to bumping it OUT of hobby-land is to commit to your professional development by attending a national convention. The chicken and the egg, as it were.

Now that you’ve bit the bullet, won the fight and decided to jump in with both feet, let’s talk about the secret to rocking your first convention or workshop. You have heard the saying about those who fail to plan, right?

Secret to Rocking Your First Convention

  • Step One: Research the Speakers

My advice is to only go to one big name speaker/headliner and instead search out the b-list convention presenters. Those presenters are on their way up to rock star status and tend to give out more information, real information, practical steps and feel more attainable. The major headliner is so far ahead of where you are in your career that it can be more discouraging than empowering.

Rock star presenters also spend the first 20 minutes selling you on how awesome they are with a slideshow about their yacht lifestyle and rolodex watches. Guess what? You are actually the one paying for that lifestyle with the products they shuck at the convention! Step away from the shiny object and dig deeper.

  • Step Two: Research the Vendors at the Trade Show

Crazy large trade shows are secretly the best reason to attend a large national level convention. Where else can you touch and feel new technology and products? If you take the rose colored glasses off and leave your credit card in your hotel room, these expos can be invaluable. What trends are coming down the pipes? Who is the new and eager new company giving out show stopping deals? What problems in your workflow can you solve?

The key here is to go to the trade show twice. Once, just to wander around (do not stop at any booths) to see the over all gist and trends. The second time, circle the specific vendors on the map that you want to visit and go straight to those.

Here’s an extra tip: try to attend the expo when a big name presenter has most of the attendees captivated outside of the trade show floor. Going during the off-peak times can actually get you quality time with vendors that you already use. With this technique, I became friends with one of my wedding album manufacturers and now he is a sponsor for my wedding album sales workshops. I had one on one time with him to discuss questions about his ordering process, see new book covers, and he was able to put a face and personality to one of his customers. That album is now my top seller. His success is my success.

  • Step Three: Spend with Intention

It is imperative that before you book your flight and hotels, you learn how your spending can be harnessed for good and not evil. This is especially helpful if you do have a spouse who is grumbling that you will be traveling without them for a week in the winter to a sunny destination. Two words: travel hacking! You can sign up for a hotel credit card, earn a rewards bonus in the first three months and then use those bonus points for free hotel stays during your convention. A little recon during the year prior to the convention is needed, however this is an easy task to complete.

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A second option is to sign up for a new business credit card (apply here) just prior to the convention. Use your new card for all of your expenses and impulse buys and earn a big sign up bonus with that spending. Actually, just do both! With most credit cards, you can have a personal and a business credit card from the same hotel or bank. I have a Chase Marriott for my personal spending and I have a Chase Marriott for my business spending. The best all around travel card for your small business is the Chase Ink Plus card. With this sign up bonus, plus regular business spending, you could take your whole family on a different vacation later. All with points! {some of these links are affiliate links and I get points if you join. so, thanks!}

  • Step Four: Packing

What on earth does one pack for a convention? Laptop or tablet? Camera or smartphone? What clothing is appropriate? For me, I like to keep things simple with a small day bag that fits under my chair. It holds four basic things: a spiral notebook, a refillable water bottle, my smartphone and a light sweater.

It is scientifically proven to improve your retention when you have to write the information down, therefore I’m a notebook girl. Additionally, later down the road you can flip through your notes with ease. Looking for bullet points and ideas as you are ready to implement these concepts is a breeze on paper. Will you ever actually find that note in your computer years later? Probably not. If you use Evernote as a journal keeping system, you can take a photo of your hand written notes and this keeps it at your fingertips for ease of digital use too.

Did you notice that I did not mention business cards in my must pack list?? That’s because I have a card in my address book on my phone with the pertinent information. When networking, just ‘share contact’ via text with anyone! Be sure the card you create has a picture of you as well as the convention name/year in the notes field. This little trick makes it super easy to remember where you met someone and you’ve done the hard work for them! Plus you can text each other later to meet for drinks.

Secret game plan for attending a convention tips and tricks creating a virtual business card

  • Step Five: Networking like a champ!

Attending a professional conference is a perfect opportunity to meet other industry professionals, vendors and attendees like you. As I outlined above on how to meet your vendors, you can also be mindful and specific when meeting other attendees. The larger national conventions can be like swimming in a sea of other people. How do you gauge who is important, who will be friendly and who might be the next big thing? Even as an extrovert, I find this part of connecting at a conference to be stressful.

A few years ago I attended the Imaging USA convention in New Orleans. I really just wanted to visit New Orleans and hadn’t gotten much education out of a national convention in a few years. I took the opportunity as a challenge to meet new people and learn the power of Twitter. Twitter had been eluding me and it didn’t come natural to use that social media platform. Therefore, my agenda during the convention was to figure out how to make it work. This made it more of a game and much more fun. My goal was to meet 5 new people each day and get invited to 2 parties. It worked and afterwards I felt so much more comfortable with Twitter and had made a few new industry contacts.

attending your first conference tips and tricks

What are your secrets to rocking your first convention?

Share your thoughts on my top 5 tips on do’s and don’t for making the most of attending a national convention or boot camp workshop.

 

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secret to attending and rocking your first convention and trade show

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