My Top 10 Attendance Tips for WPPI, NAB or Any Large Conference

This past week I was at WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International) where I taught a master class on DSLR filmmaking. With over 16,000 photographers in attendance, hundreds of vendors covering a quarter million square feet of trade floor space, and over 100 classes and seminars, it’s one of the largest conferences in the world geared specifically towards professionals. To say the least, it can be quite overwhelming.

I’ve been attending large conferences like this for nearly two decades. Over all that time, I’ve come to learn a thing or three about how to get the most out of them. For those of you who just got back from WPPI, sorry I didn’t get a chance to write this before the show. But, with NAB, SXSW and other larger conferences just over the horizon, I thought I’d give you my top ten tips for attending these kind of conferences so you can get the most out of them (without going broke).

  1. Plan your whole schedule ahead of time. This may seem like a given, but I know of people who show up and try to figure everything out after they get there. There’s a lot going on at these things and you’ll maximize your acquired knowledge if you plan the classes, seminars, meet-ups, and workshops you want to attend. Feel free to leave some wiggle room or mark some classes as “tentative” so you can be flexible.
  2. Plan your budget. With $6 grande mochas, $7 chocolate shakes, and $6 pizza slices, your food bill can rack up quick. Not to mention all the “toys” on the trade show floor you’re going to want. Make a budget for food, entertainment and equipment investment ahead of time. THEN STICK TO IT! It should also go without saying, do NOT put a thousand dollars worth of food on a credit card you don’t pay off. There’s nothing sillier than going into debt to pay for something that’s going to come out your other end in less than 48 hours.
  3. Plan your outfits. We all know you want to look good. Heaven forbid if you don’t show up at WPPI without looking like you just stepped off a cover of Vogue or GQ. So, if you care about such things, plan your outfits ahead of time. Don’t just throw a bunch of clothes in the suitcase so you can sort it all out there. (This tip is pretty much for the guys). Also, take extra pairs of underwear.
  4. Get your rest. Get your rest BEFORE you leave for the show, but also get your rest during the show as well. I know you will want to party like it’s 1999, but try to get some decent sleep. (I’m sure this will fall on deaf ears. But for you 40+ year olds out there, trust me on this.)
  5. Pack efficiently and accordingly. There’s a good chance you will come home with books, flyers, magazines, gifts, and maybe even a new camera. Pack your bags taking into account room for all the stuff you’ll want to bring back home with you. You could also consider shipping bigger items home via UPS. Most large hotels have some kind of UPS or FedEx counter.
  6. Schedule key meetings ahead of time. Lots of business deals and networking happens at these events. If you know you want to network or meet with key vendors, potential partners, or fellow colleagues, plan those meetings at least a week or more before you go. By the time you get there, everyone’s schedules are so crazy you will be hard pressed to meet with someone if you haven’t already gotten on their calendar.
  7. Meet new people. Conferences like these are great for reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, but make an effort also to meet new friends.
  8. Make 1 or 2 meaningful connections. So much of these conferences involve “kiss, kiss, cheek, cheek” schmoozing that is so surfacy. You can tell people are just doing it to “make the rounds”. Make a concerted effort to have REAL connections with people, ideally NEW people. Go out to dinner with a few people (not fifty) and have an intimate conversation about the business, your challenges, etc. Share ideas. Have a small lunch meet-up. Having 1 or 2 meaningful connections with a few people will be exponentially more rewarding than hundreds of “kiss, kiss, cheek, cheek” hits and run.
  9. Take classes to fill your gaps. Make a concerted effort to take classes and seminars in areas where you are weak. Do you really need to attend ANOTHER Photoshop tips and tricks seminar? Consider attending that sales and marketing class instead.
  10. Take away at least ONE thing. I learned this from Pictage CEO Jim Collins a few years back. Acknowledging how note taking crazy everyone is, he encouraged people to take away at least ONE thing they’ll take back to their business to implement. You will be overwhelmed with all the knowledge you learn and as such you’ll most likely get back home, put your notes up on the shelf, and not do anything. Find at least one thing you can implement in your business that will make a difference. As you’re taking notes, something is bound to hit you. Circle it or do something else to “set it aside”.

What are some of the tips you guys have to add to the list?