Five Things to Know Before Attending a Convention by Rashida Jones

NABJ 2012 - New Orleans
NABJ Convention & Student Projects 2012 – New Orleans

* This blog post was originally posted by Rashida Jones on

Five Things to Know Before Attending a Convention by Rashida Jones

       ‘Tis the season…NABJ, AAJA, NAHJ…and there are many others. The alphabet soup of journalism conventions is upon us and it is time to come up with a game plan. For rookies, these sessions can be overwhelming—there are hundreds to thousands of strangers in attendance. They all seem to know someone or have some kind of connection. Where do you start? For veterans, it might seem like the same ole, same ole. Look at reels, schmooze with acquaintances and get the hell out of there after a few days. But new and experienced journalists alike…are you getting and GIVING everything you can during these conventions? Here are a few tips that might help you make the most of your time.

1. Think about your goals ahead of time

What do you want to get out of the convention? To grow your connections? A job? To learn more about the business? All of the above? These are all doable, but you need to think ahead of time about how to accomplish them. If your goal is to extend your network, plan to visit the career fair and target the booths that fit your personal career goals AND several of the ones that may not fit directly. In this era, platforms are merging and there may be opportunities in areas you may have never imagined. Always carry cards—you may meet someone in the elevator, in line for lunch, at the bar—anywhere. Be prepared to make the connection.
If your goal is a job, target your trip even more specifically ahead of the convention. Identify a few companies or people to target. Reach out BEFORE the convention. Set up specific meetings if possible. Ideally these are leaders with which you’ve developed a relationship ahead of time. Do not leave your visit to chance—you should have a few meetings scheduled before your feet hit the ground. Start reaching out a few weeks before the convention, before their schedules are packed.

In addition to the wheeling and dealing, there is a great deal to learn at these conventions. Each one has a robust series of classes and training sessions where you may be able to learn something. Ask questions, take notes and get involved.

PRO TIP: Live tweet some of what you are learning in real-time and @ the panelist—this is an indirect way to getting on their radar.

2. Do your research
Learn all you can about the panelists and the companies you are interested in before the convention. In most cases, the organization posts the speakers and panelists lists well before the convention. Identify similar career experiences, professionals you may know in common or specific points in their career you find inspiring. Let them know you put in some legwork before you hit the ground. Take the time to wait in line after panels to chat with the panelists and make the most of the three minutes you have with him or her. Share a nugget about them, about yourself and your goals. Do not walk away without exchanging cards. If they don’t have cards, make a note to find their information and follow-up. At the career fair, know which companies have open positions, know about recent “wins”, mergers, movements and such.

PRO TIP: Email a few panelists before the convention and reinforce the connection when you meet them in person.

3. Look and speak professionally. Bring ENERGY to each discussion

Looking and speaking professionally is a given, but worth reinforcing. But the biggest advice I would give is to bring ENERGY to every conversation you have. A perfunctory greeting and conversation will make you forgettable. Bringing passion and engagement to our discussion will make someone not only remember you, but it will make them want to be part of your success. Smile. Be bold. Be infectious.

4. The convention is 24 hours. You are *on* 24 hours
There is always both a business play and a social play at these conventions. To get the most out of it, you should be comfortable with participating in both. A lot of connections can be made at the area bar and social gatherings. Just know your limits. Know people are always watching. Know you are YOU 24/7, so do not do or wear anything that you would not be comfortable doing or wearing in front of a perspective hiring manager. Be social, but do not be the after party. Same goes for your social media self.

5. Commit to keeping in touch

This is important for both veterans and rookies. Vets, it is on you to pay it forward. Many of us got to where we are because someone did the same for us. So commit to doing the same for at least five people this year. Rookies, follow through on reinforcing these connections after the convention. Be prompt in your follow-up. A handwritten “Thank You” card goes a long way in this digital world. Buy them before the conference and send them off on your last day so they meet or beat the recipient to the office. Use this as an opportunity to follow-up on a specific request. Reel critique, resume review, shadow opportunity, career advice….think about a specific “ask” while the relationship is fresh.

PRO TIP: Put a reminder on your calendar to check in every four to six months. Keep the relationship going.

Even if you have only been in the business for a few years, reach back and help a high school or college student interested in your career path. It’s never too early to pay it forward.

Like anything, you get out of it what you put in. You can get a LOT done in a short period and still be able to enjoy the laughs, fun and fellowship these conventions provide. Even if you are not looking for anything specifically right now, you never know how these connections can yield great benefit in your future.


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