While I am hard at work preparing for Fashion PR Confidential this weekend in NYC (did you see? allll sold out!), many aspiring PR professionals are heading to Philadelphia to attend the Public Relations Student Society of America's annual conference. I was lucky enough to be one of the speakers of the 2009 PRSSA Conference when it was held in San Diego, and had such a great time meeting everyone! Alas, since I cannot clone myself, (or student-ify myself), what better way than to live vicariously through everyone by sharing how I would approach attending the conference and making the most of it!
These tips go for any conference of course, whether you are headed to Fashion PR Confidential, Lucky Fabb or Fashionista's "How to Make it in Fashion" (where I'm signed on as a mentor - hint, hint!).
Follow all the Speakers on Twitter and Reach out via LinkedIn
There is no time like the present to get connected. Research and add all the speakers on Twitter and request an add on LinkedIn. Reach out and let them know you are looking forward to hearing them speak, and tell them a bit about you. Then, after they drop knowledge, you can go up to each speaker, suavely shake their hand and let them know you are the you who reached out. Add anyone and everyone you want to keep tabs on during the conference by putting them all into a PRSSA conference list (you may want to check @prssa to see if they have put together an official Twitter list of attendees, speakers and sponsors).
Make a list of your must-sees
Every time I go to a conference, despite by best intentions to see every speaker, I inevitably get conference-overwhelm, meet someone really neat and want to talk to them instead, or have to handle some work emergency. Assuming all this, make a list of the presentations you absolutely must-attend and stick to that plan, while being a bit more flexible on the others. If I was attending the 2013 PRSSA Conference, my list would include:
- Keynote by Mary Henige, Director of Social Media, Digital Communication and Reputation Management at GM
- Nicole Garner's "F.A.M.E. PR" professional development workshop
- "The Passion Conversation: Be an Explorer of Your Passions," by Geno Church, Brains on Fire
- Beyond the Press Release: Media Relations Panel
- Striving for Work-Life Fit (Dr. Bey-Ling Sha was my thesis advisor - tell her I said hi)
- PRSA General Session: Brian Solis
- Fashion PR: More Than Selling Items in a Store (though that Warner Bros. heavy Entertainment PR panel is a close second)
Have questions prepared
Do a bit of research on the speakers and prepare a few questions that will be relevant to the panels/presentations you choose. Whether you are chosen during the Q&A portion or are able to get some face-time after the talk is over, a powerful way to distinguish yourself is to ask a thoughtful, personalized question. I love it when, instead of simply asking "what advice do you have about breaking into fashion PR," an audience member says something like " know you wrote a master's thesis on fashion PR and wrote a book about how to break into the industry," and then follows with a specific, clear question. Try it on the speaker you are most eager to meet.
Hi, my name is...
Ah, the dreaded elevator pitch. Ok darling, it's you and Brian Solis in the elevator and he turns and says, "So, what are you into?" Before you stutter your way through, hop in front of that mirror and get ready to impress with a prepared statement. You might say, "Hi, I'm Jessa. I'm graduating in May with a degree in PR and Political Science from the University of Georgia, where I'm PRSSA Chapter President. I'll be moving to New York by September to pursue a career in corporate PR and finally see what all the fuss is about." If you get stuck or that seems too boring, try my friend Alex's approach.
I don't mean your conference ticket, a new leather jacket or laptop. Be prepared with plugs and battery packs to make sure you don't end up out of juice. Charge everything up before you go to bed and make sure you are smart about conserving your battery power, like lowering the brightness of your screen.
Make friends by being friendly
This one is the hardest for me, because I have been known to literally duck into the bathroom and furiously text my best friend from a stall when I'm in a new situation where I don't know anyone, but at a conference, you already share one big thing in common - your interest and love for PR. Even if you are attending with friends, make it a habit to go over to the girl sitting by herself with the great bag and introduce yourself. Separate from your friends and smile at strangers. Break the ice with a compliment "those shoes? amazing," a question, "any idea if there are any snacks around here?," or curiosity, "is this conference what you expected? what's been the most valuable thing you've learned so far? Here's mine."
Tweet and Instagram your face off
Every speaker checks to see what people were saying during their talk, oh about 10 seconds after they are done with the post-presentation meet and greet. Demonstrate your social savvy not only by tweeting during each talk, using the appropriate hashtag and referencing the speaker's handle (handy that you already did step 1, yes?). When you meet people, pose for that shot, post it to Instagram and ask your new bestie for their IG handle. Tag them and voila, you're connected.
Escape, if only for a little while
You're in a new city - explore it! Sneak out a bit early and grab an Uber to explore where you are. Pick out a few restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques and get a sense of things. Looks like there are even some special deals if you know where to flash that badge.
Follow up fast
Amidst the buzz and energy of a conference, it's easy to believe, with all your heart, that you actually will follow up with everyone you have met. 90% of the time, it never happens. 48 hours after you get back home, dedicate your morning to reaching out to everyone you connected with. Follow up on discussions, share resources and perhaps suggest a monthly Skype call to stay connected.
Finaly, wear flats
There is nothing worse than walking the halls of a hotel or convention center, hobbling about because you decided you needed to bring an extra four inches and a 1/2 inch platform with you to class today. And since I know most of you will disregard in the name of fashion, for the love of PR kittens, at least stick a pair in your purse. A jacket too, they love to blast the AC at these things.
What is your go-to conference strategy? I'd love to hear about it!
Photo Credit: Gwenaël Piaser