Five tips to stand out at professional conferences

Posted by on Aug 12, 2014 | No Comments

There’s a quote from the great Mahatma Gandhi that reads, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” That quote has always summarized my approach to life and it couldn’t mean more to me than it did when I attended both the NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) and then the NAHJ (National Association of Hispanic Journalists) conferences. Even though I had my own job in hand, I took the past two weeks and made sure to learn as much as I could from the veterans and anyone who was offering advice.

Tony Atkins and Nancy Flores of the Austin American-Statesman were recruiting for CMG at the NAHJ conference in San Antonio, Texas.

I’d never attended a journalism conference before, so I didn’t quite know how to prepare for these two events. I knew it was something that I had to jump in to head-first and get a feel for on my own.

That’s exactly what I did.

I spent a lot of time recruiting from the Cox Media Group booth that brought in a plethora of potential job candidates. Students, young and veteran journalists alike were all vying for potential job and networking opportunities. However, I got the most bang for my buck by attending the many sessions and setting up lunches and dinners with people after hours.

I’ve learned from my first conference experience and I have a few tips for those young journalists looking to attend these conferences in the future.

Presentation is key

“You are what you attract.” This phrase was one of the first things that Marquette professor Herbert Lowe preached during his “#LoweClass” session at NABJ. Those five words set the tone for the rest of my conference. The clothes you wear, the way you speak, your etiquette and how you present yourself is only half the battle.

The other half of that battle is making sure your work is a solid representation of you. For example, if you’re presenting your reel or resume, make sure it’s well-written, edited and looked over before giving it to recruiters. Make sure your social media represents what you want to portray at the conference because jobs are looking at you online as well.

Plan out your conference social media strategy beforehand

It’s pretty hard to imagine a young person in journalism without social media, so assuming you’re on the relevant social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter); you are in a great position to do some major networking. Find out the relevant hashtag of that event (NABJ’s was #NABJ14 and NAHJ’s was #NAHJ14SA) and get out there. It is a great way to get your name out while linking with people involved with and leading the discussion.

One thing that worked for me on social media during both conferences is that I approached it as a reporter. If I were in a panel, I would live-tweet what was going on in that discussion as if I were live at the scene of a crime. Many of these sessions took place in smaller rooms so you could quickly identify the people in the same discussion as you doing the exact same thing – showing off their social media reporting skills. Following the session, I would meet the people in the online discussion and converse about the session and anything that happens from there. Between the two conferences, I’ve gained 45 followers on Twitter by tweeting smart and presenting myself in a good way.

Meet as many people as possible

Tony Atkins and Geoffrey Cooper with colleagues at NAHJ in San Antonio, Texas.

Not everyone you meet at these conferences will be as easily accessible through social media but a lot of people will be. So to be safe, conferences are a great time to network with everyone you can just like your grandfather did. Get out there and meet people face to face. Trade cards with people. Try planning lunches with people and picking their brains. Don’t worry about being shy, either. Just about everyone attending these conferences is looking to meet people and build their networks.

Follow up with the people you meet

This is the most important part of the conferencing process. Following up with all of the people you’ve met over the past week or so. Making sure to get back to the people you’ve met in a timely manner says a lot. Not getting back to the people you’ve met at networking conferences is like buying a lot of groceries on a hot day and leaving them in the car when you make it home, they won’t be as fresh as they were when you bought them.

Granted, you won’t be able to establish a daily conversation with everyone you’ve met but try to touch base with everyone if you can. Also, it’s important to pick out some key people to maintain a more regular conversation with. It’ll do you well down the line when you need some industry people to talk or vent to that can relate. (Good tip for young journos finding their way)

Have fun, but not too much

Thankfully, I didn’t have to go into these conferences looking for a job but I know a lot of people that did. I made a lot of connections at after parties and other events happening around the conferences. I’d say treat each day as a day-long interview. You don’t have to be up-tight for 24 hours but you shouldn’t go crazy partying either. After a day of learning, many people gather up for dinners, drinks and parties and they will be a lot of fun. That said, don’t forget about your presentation. There are people around that could potentially be your next boss or colleague 10 years from now and the last thing you want them to remember about you is how you couldn’t keep contain at a conference. It also looks great when you can show people that you’re capable of having fun as well. Just keep it cool.

Many people come to conferences to look for jobs but the real treasures at these conferences are the panels. The smorgasbord of information is yours for the taking. Make sure to take advantage of them and you’ll be alright. So, until next time, peace!

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