Conventions offer a wealth of contacts

Dear Joan:
I've been with my employer for a few months and I have recently been told I can attend one company paid convention or seminar per year. I'm a recent college graduate and I've never been in a situation where I could travel on company business before.

I'm in a technical field and I have a lot to learn in this new area. I'm also interested in learning about how to get ahead and do well in my position. What would you suggest?

As a young professional, it's important for you to learn as much as you can about your technical specialty. It's also important to establish contacts in your field so you have a strong network you can rely on for technical knowledge as well as job leads.

Conventions offer an opportunity to get an overview of a wide number of issues in your field. Another advantage is that you will have a chance to meet a wide variety of people from other companies. The disadvantage is that you won't learn very much detail about any one subject, which is what a seminar would provide. As a new professional, a convention might be a good place to start. Once you have the "big picture," you can then zero in on one seminar next year to learn more about it.

Attending a convention can be an overwhelming experience, particularly if you go alone. It helps to figure out your strategy before you leave so you maximize your time and meet the most people.

Decide in advance which issues you are most interested in. Ask your manager and peers what issues they would like you to gather information on. Offer to brief your co-workers or write a report about what you learned at the conference. That way, everyone will benefit and you will be more motivated to learn so you can teach.

Examine the program schedule in advance and plan out your itinerary. Plan to attend the general session so you learn what the "who's who" are saying about the new trends in your industry. Don't be shy. After their speech go up and introduce yourself, get their card and ask questions.

Most conventions offer a smorgasbord of choices in the concurrent sessions. For each time period, choose a first and second choice. One strategy some people use is to sit in the back of the room in the session you chose first and then if that isn't meeting your needs, you can slip out and attend your second choice.

Bring plenty of business cards and be sure to introduce yourself to people who sit near you. Often, you will get more out of the informal networking than you will from the formal sessions. Don't be shy about asking other people what they are doing in their company on the issues you are most interested in.

During breaks, ask other attendees which sessions they've attended and which ones were the most valuable. You may be able to switch your plan to attend a session you hadn't considered. If you attend with other co-workers, divide up which sessions each person will attend, to get maximum coverage. Agree to regroup to share notes and handouts.

Plan to attend hospitality sessions and receptions. That's where you're likely to meet people in an informal setting and start building a relationship.

Follow up on a few of the contacts you met several weeks after the convention to share information and ask questions. These relationships can become a key link to your future jobs. They can also be valuable resources when you're working on a project.

Finally, eat and drink in moderation. The first time you travel on company business it may feel like a Carte Blanc invitation to overindulge but don't do it. Ask your manager what your expense limits are before you go and stay well within them. Remember that you are representing the company and you'll need a clear head -- this is work.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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