November 30, 2011

How To Prepare for Conferences and Conventions

This is a guest post by Desi Rottman. Desi is a recent graduate of Ferris State University's Music Industry Management program. A former recipient of a NAMM President's Innovation Award and Tuition Scholarship, she's currently a marketing manager of a small music non-profit in Michigan. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


A (Brief) Primer on Conferences and Conventions
Conferences aren’t just for people already working in the industry. Students are welcome to attend many, and some even have programs tailored directly to college programs. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) is the trade organization for the music product industry, and they have a great program at their winter show called “Generation NEXT.” NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers) offers a “Crash Course” beginning their full convention.

They are great networking opportunities, and most seminars like this will have built-in meeting opportunities. Expect to pack a lot of information in to a very short time and meet a lot of people who can help you in your job search – so make sure you present your best self and always dress (and act) appropriately.

Aside from all the career advice and contacts you’ll make, you’re also pretty likely to come away with a few bags of swag!



Get Prepared
The number one thing you need to bring to a conference of any kind is business cards. I can’t stress it enough.
When we decided last-minute to go to the NARM 2010 convention, I packed up some of my cards to bring along. Another student from my school said repeatedly how frustrated he was that he didn’t have any to hand out. It’s the best way to connect, and the best way for contacts to remember you after the conference.

You can get reasonably priced (and sometimes free, except shipping) cards at VistaPrint. They allow you to upload your own designs or use a pre-designed template, but sometimes shipping can take several weeks. I prefer moo.com, who have higher-quality cards, cooler designs, and a much shorter shipping time, and jukeboxprints.com, who have some awesome options for designers.


PRO TIP: After you've exchanged cards, make a note on the back of something you talked  
about during your conversation. It will be easier to write a follow-up e-mail – and make it 
more personal – if you’re not working to remember what you talked to this person about.


It also doesn’t hurt to bring a couple resumes. While you should always, always, always tailor your resume to every position you apply for, it’s okay to bring an overview to a conference in case anyone asks for it. Make sure to keep them in a sturdy folder – if you’re traveling far for the conference, it’s easy for them to get bent and folded in your luggage.


Remember to bring pens and a notebook to take notes! There will be a lot of information packed into a very short span, and it’s easy to forget at the end of the day who might have said what.

Do Your Research
Organizations will always post their schedules and speakers before the conference, so study up! Pick the seminars you want to attend in advance and research the presenters, so if you have the chance to ask questions, you’ll have already had time to come up with one. It will also help to know the backgrounds of the people who will be presenting if you have a chance to talk to them at a cocktail hour.

Know the Culture
This goes along with doing your research, but make sure you understand the culture of the conference. Why are people going there? Is it primarily for business or trade, or is it more educational or for networking? If it’s a trade show, like NAMM, understand that people are there to do business.

PRO TIP: Try and score a volunteer gig working in a booth for a vendor who is showing at the event. You’ll learn a lot about the products they sell and come away with more awesome experience for your resume… and maybe a lead on an internship, if you impress them.

Don’t Be Shy
You aren’t going to a conference to interact with your friends or co-workers in a new city – so be ready to approach people. You won’t get far if you stick to the same group of people you see every day. Start talking to someone and see where the conversation goes.

What to Expect?
Don’t expect a lot of sleep – just like the “real world” music industry, the business people at conferences don’t go to bed at 11 pm. There will be parties and networking going on long into the night – just don’t embarrass yourself.