Twelve Tips for Making the Most of a Convention

Practical advice for attendees as we head into trade show season

By Ralph Wolff, PSA

The following annual favorite appeared in the latest edition of PSA News, the quarterly newsletter of the Professional Service Association. The appliance repair organization revisited the column in advance of its upcoming PSA Convention (September 25-28 in Las Vegas), but its suggestions apply equally to those attending next month’s BrandSource Convention.

There are a lot of folks out there that may not have attended an event like this in the past — this short tutorial will help you make the most of your time at our Convention.

Taking days out of your office to attend a conference is expensive. If you are going to spend money and sacrifice a valuable chunk of time that could be spent making money, then the conference better be worth your while.

The usefulness of a work-related conference is determined by how you approach it. Approach it right and you can pick up new skills, learn about trends in your field and make valuable contacts. Approach it wrong and it can end up being long, boring and useless.

Here are 12 tips for avoiding the latter:

 1.    Read the agenda before going to the conference and figure out what sessions will best fit your needs. You probably won’t be able to attend all the sessions, so prioritize the ones you most want or need to attend. If you are attending with a co-worker, consider splitting up some of the sessions so that you cover more ground between the two of you.

2.    Read the list of presenters for the sessions you are attending and do some research on them. It is always better to know the credentials of the presenter, as it will give you more insight into the material and give you time to formulate questions. If the presenters’ information is not available, reach out to them prior to the conference. 

3.    Read the exhibitors list ahead of time and make a list of the people and companies you want to meet with. Otherwise, in a large exhibition hall you may get overwhelmed and miss getting to the people you wanted to talk to.

 4.    Ask questions in the sessions you attend. Don’t be shy about questioning the presenters over points you would like clarified. You are actually doing them a favor by asking questions, as most presenters dread having disengaged audiences. The more interaction in the session, the more you and everyone will learn, including the presenter. So ask away!

5.    Be approachable. Don’t spend all your time outside of conference sessions using your phone or immersed in reading material. Be open and engaged and you will be more likely to meet like-minded people. Most folks attending a conference are looking for others to interact with as well, so don’t be afraid to approach fellow attendees. You don’t even need an excuse; you can simply walk up to someone, introduce yourself, and ask how they’re doing and whether they’ve been to any good sessions.

 6.    Don’t make non-work-related plans for the evenings. You might be tempted to catch up with your friend who lives in town, but lots of networking will happen in the evening, often spontaneously. You will want to be available for a last-minute dinner or to visit the hospitality room. 

7.    Stay away from alcohol. If you enjoy an alcoholic drink, have only one or two at most. If you find yourself hanging out at the bar or in the hospitality room, ask for a seltzer or soft drink.

 8.    Bring snacks. Conventions often offer only unhealthy, overpriced convenience foods. Find a local market and buy some healthy snacks to keep on hand in case you miss lunch or get hungry during the day.

 9.    Wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to do a lot of standing around while talking to people and you might even end up in some standing-room only sessions. You will also be doing a lot of walking to get from your room to the conference halls, exhibitor floor and so forth, and nothing is as distracting as sore feet from uncomfortable shoes.

 10.  Bring business cards. The exchange of business cards is a time-honored tradition at conferences. When exchanging cards with someone you want to follow up with, be sure to make notes on the back so you remember who the person is once you’re back in the office.

 11.  When you get back to your office after the Convention, take some time to follow up with the people you met. Email them to let them know you enjoyed meeting them and perhaps reference something you talked about. (Those notes on the back of their business cards will be helpful.)

12.  Conferences are more than just sessions; they are an assembly of like-minded folks with great intention. How often do you get uninterrupted time to discuss matters of interest with industry peers from around the country? Many great experiences happen during the downtime, so don’t leave these experiences to chance. Reach out to your contacts beforehand and set up an early breakfast or lunch. 

In developing our 2023 Convention, PSA has sought to create an experience for you with great intention and resource. If you put some time into research prior to the conference and follow the tips listed here, you will most certainly come home with a trunk full of ideas and knowledge that will help you succeed.

Ralph Wolff is owner of Jersey Coast Appliance in Toms River, N.J., and manages industry relations for the Professional Service Association (PSA), a leading trade organization dedicated to the long-term success of the appliance repair channel.

Upcoming Events