“We need you to go to Orlando next month for the convention.” The first time your boss says these words, it may fill you with fear or excitement. Or, more likely, a little of Column A and a little of Column B. You are about to mix and mingle with the people who will determine your career path and industry reputation, at least for the next few years. So, how do you navigate this minefield of opportunities?
Here are my top five things to consider:
Do everything you can ahead of time to get ready. When you are “on” for 15-18 hours a day, there’s no room for anything else. The week before, get plenty of sleep, eat good food, and take care of your body. Nail down any presentation materials and speeches. The first night you get in, iron all of your clothes; you do not want to roll out of bed after a late night and have to set up the ironing board. Pack a ton of business cards, and put them everywhere – in your wallet, purse, briefcase, jacket – never get caught without them.
You only have so much time, so use it wisely. Make a schedule. First, block out any can’t-miss sessions, events, and parties – anything with a definite time frame. Next, try and get firm commitments from your top prospects for sit-down meetings. Calendars fill up and people get distracted, so get these dialed in ASAP. But, do not to plan every second of every day. Many deals begin in the exhibit halls, elevators, and bars; leave time for chance encounters. Also, it’s ok to occasionally slip away for a quiet moment or a quick cat nap. It’s not a sprint, and you need to preserve your stamina.
Be realistic about your goals. I have almost never walked out of a conference with a signed contract in hand. They are more about relationship building, and laying the groundwork for future business. You definitely want to research and make a target list of key targets. But, don’t ever discount the value of face time with anyone, even if it doesn’t immediately seem like they can help you. People change jobs, and referrals can come from anywhere. Most importantly, you could be missing out on a great friendship.
4. Your Position
Always know where you fit in the corporate hierarchy. That doesn’t mean that there’s a caste system. Many C-level executives are willing to make themselves available, if you are respectful. But, I have heard numerous complaints about young employees who approach senior management with “company-saving” ideas. In addition to being an implicit critique, this also comes off as naïve. Your plan may be great, but I guarantee that the company president has access to information that you don’t. Do not waste their time with suggestions that are legally, logistically, or financially untenable. If you do get a chance to speak with them, treat it as a learning opportunity.
Loosen up and be yourself – people bond with other people, not products – but be smart about it. An open bar is not a competition, and making an ass out of yourself at the awards banquet can haunt you for years. Maybe alternate gin and tonics with club soda; throw in a lime and nobody will know the difference. Stay out, but stay sharp. And, read the room: if you can’t spot the drunken jackass, then you should probably head quietly back to your room. Trust me, when you are sitting in the 8:00 a.m, tax law session the next morning, you will be glad you did.