The reason I LOVE Showiteers so much is because it's a group that loves! It's a group that let's new people in, embraces them, and really cares. That just makes me smile so big. The rest of this article is likely old news for a group like this. But I thought a little story about our WPPI experiences, and some do's and don'ts that came out of that might benefit some as an encouragement.
It was only four or five years ago that Suzy and I first went to WPPI. At the time we had only heard of a few of the speakers, and didn't know a single person at the conference. It was really scary, uncomfortable, and intimidating. Fast forward to last year, we walked into WPPI and got hugs in the hallway, at the tradeshow, on the escalators, and in the elevators from at least 100 different people. Many of the speakers, vendors, and other attendees have become dear friends who we've visited and stayed with all over the country, and we feel like the conference is a huge family reunion! Of course much of that was also due to getting connected with the Showiteers and going to Showit United as well. But WPPI was where all of those connections first started.
That said, I know many of you are going to WPPI for your first or second time this year and thought some tips on how we learned to love and serve at the conference turned our experience from scary and intimidating to something beautiful and wonderful.
Keith Ferrazzi's chapter on “Be a Conference Commando” in his book Never Eat Alone was invaluable for us and much of the below content is from what we applied out of that chapter. This is a bit long, but after spending so much money and time to make it to the conference, hopefully five minutes of reading will help you be successful there!
DO DEVELOP REAL RELATIONSHIPS: Use the conference to develop real relationships and love people. In an internet world this is one of the few times you get to connect with people in person. Find someone who is alone and be their friend. It will bless both them and you. I remember a few years ago Suzy and I saw someone sitting alone at a table for lunch. We decided to go ask if we could join her. Suzy then ended up just chatting with her for over an hour. That person ended up eventually starting her own conference, and a huge organization we were part of as it took off. That one moment we took to befriend someone who looked tired and lonely was one of the biggest catalysts to where we are in life right now. I could give you another dozen examples of similar stories. But they key is put yourself out there and really care for people. Of course some people we meet and have long conversations with we never see again. But you never know which stranger could end up being your next best friend. So introduce yourself, and spend AT LEAST five minutes talking to that person. Don't tell them about you, but ASK about their life, their work, their passions and their needs and then get some contact info and give them a hug. Make it your goal at WPPI to do this with at least five people if not many more.
DO USE THE TRADE SHOW TO DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS WITH VENDORS: Don't just collect a bunch of junk. Decide in advance which companies you are interested in working with and then go and have a good chat with the representatives from each of your options. In many cases we have developed relationships with the company and they in turn have given us all kinds of stuff to give away to our attendees at our workshops and other events we host. We win because we have great products to give away; they win because we spread the word about their company. Meeting the vendors also gives you a great point person to talk to whenever you have product questions or needs. Of course if you come across a new product you've never heard of spend some time investigating.
DO BE CONSIDERATE OF THE SPEAKERS: All of us have other photographers or speakers who have influenced us for the better. If there is someone you really want to meet, don't stop them in the hallway when they are obviously in a hurry to get somewhere. It is ok to wait in line to meet them before or after they speak or at other get-togethers, and every speaker loves to get feedback and encouragement. Just keep the meeting short and not awkward. Something like “Hi, I'm Joe I follow your blog and just want to thank you for all the helpful tips that have been so impactful on my business, I just wanted to say that and shake your hand” Then shake their hand, or if they offer a hug give them one, and move on. If it's a low-key setting then see where the conversation goes. Later you can follow up on social media and thank them for the meeting. But unless the conversation feels organic don't spend too much time when you could be meeting other people.
DO GO TO GET-TOGETHERS: Outside of the main WPPI events there are many informal get-togethers and parties with as few as 5 all the way too 500+ people attending. These are hosted or setup by different companies and speakers and are the perfect forum to develop relationships. Some of our best friends, and greatest networking connections have come from the people we met at these small informal events. You can find these on most company newsletters or Facebook pages.
DO DRESS WELL: There is a lot of walking involved so comfortable shoes are important. But beyond that don't wear leggings, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt. You're going to be meeting a lot of people, so dress to match your brand. Sports jacket, or button up and vest for guys, a cute dress or skirt for ladies. Remember you're going to be making a lot of first Impressions, so think about how you want to be remembered. Often the speakers are the only ones who dress well, and many others look like they just came from the gym. I won't judge if you really like to wear your leggings and sweatshirt, so don't sweat it, but If you dress the part it helps make connections.
That's it on the Do's. You might have noticed the keynote sessions weren't mentioned at all in the Do's. As fabulous as all of the speakers are, if you're looking to learn there often isn't too much in the sessions you couldn't get from those same speakers online. Of course it doesn't hurt to go to the sessions, and sometimes a live speaker is more motivational than a webcast or download. The speakers also need someone to speak too ;). But find someone sitting alone and use the sessions as a tool for developing relationships with the other attendees in addition to the stage content.
DON'T BE THE CELEBRITY HOUND: If there is a photographer speaking who you really admire, sure you can wait in line to thank them for their influence. But don't make it your goal to get a selfie with every speaker or blogger you follow. It doesn't help you, could annoy them, and takes time away from building other relationships. I was once having lunch with a good friend who is a very well known, speaker, blogger and author. We were talking about conferences, and he mentioned this one guy who had asked him to sign his conference guide. While signing it he noticed the signatures of most of the other speakers in there as well. He told me he felt like this guy didn't care for or admire him at all, but just saw him as an object to be collected. On a side note I think it made him feel was even worse that he was one of the last ones to be collected.
DON'T BE THE ANKLE HUGGER: This is the person who follows the first person they meet around for the entire conference. Meet people and establish relationships, and then go meet other people. There will be time later to follow up with each one and deepen the relationship. (did I mentioned we have visited our new friends and stayed with them all over the country as well as having many of them come and stay with us?)
DON'T BE THE EYE DARTER: This is someone who while meeting a new person always has their eyes darting around the room as if they are about to rush off. This symptom comes from celebrity hounds who are looking to see who they can meet. Be sure to engage with each person you talk to and make eye contact.
DON'T BE THE CARD DISPENSER: I remember I was sitting in a hotel lobby having a wonderful conversation with a new friend I just met, as we talked this guy walks up to us. He blurts into our conversation and says “Hi, I'm so and so, here's my card, what's your name? He then hands his card to each of us (out of a huge stack in his hand), and before I can even finish responding is gone). Needless to say the card went in the first trashcan I saw.
DON'T PACK YOUR SCHEDULE: Leave some time at the conference to hang out with new friends, take people up on intimate dinner invitations, and make changes. It puts you in a really bad light if you commit to go to something and then flake when something else comes up. Companies buy food, speakers print notes, and parties reserve space for each and everyone who RSVP'd, and they have lists of people who missed. Over committing turns into a lose/lose for you if you're in a situation where you want to flake. It also leaves you mentally and physically exhausted. It's hard to hold a conversation when you can't keep your eyes open. If you leave your schedule with enough room for adjustment you'll be better off.
There's a lot more that could be said and I would advise reading that chapter in Never Eat Alone. But I think all of the above boils down to a simple “find people to love” and the conference will be a success!
Suzy and I really hope we get to see you there, meet you in person, and give you a hug!
– Lukas (and Suzy)
p.s. here's a gallery of a few review photos I took 2 years ago if you want to see what to expect!
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