Poynter’s Doris Truong shares advice for how to pay your way, network effectively, and maximize the connections you make.
Attending a conference can be an invaluable experience that can help advance your career.
While the learning and networking opportunities at conferences are enormous, the pressure to maximize the time is often stressful: How can you convince your boss to let you attend? Which sessions should you go to? What’s the best way to meet people once you’re there? These questions can overwhelm even the most veteran conference goer.
Doris Truong, Poynter’s director of training and diversity, recently shared tips and best practices for how to most effectively navigate a conference with the inaugural Lenfest Institute’s Next Generation Fund cohort.
You generally don’t have that amount of talent in one room at one time,’’ Truong said.
The 21 NextGen award recipients are Philadelphia-area professional and student journalists of color who earned grants to attend the national professional development conference of their choice and receive related support from the Institute.
Here are six tips Truong shared with the NextGen leaders:
1. The first step: Convince your boss to let you attend the conference
Going to a conference is a privilege, and you have to prove that you’re the one that deserves to attend. You should emphasize the specific goals you want to accomplish at the conference and what lessons you’ll be able to bring back to improve not only your work but the work of your team as well.
But given the resource constraints newsrooms deal with, some outlets are hesitant to let staffers take time away from the office for professional development.
However, supervisors are often willing to grant time off if they know the work will be completed even though you’re out of the newsroom. Truong suggested that you should ask a colleague to help fill the gaps while you’re away in exchange for you offering to help them at a future date.
Recognizing that the work still needs to get done, and making arrangements to ensure it is complete, exhibits responsibility and initiative, and it could earn you some extra brownie points in the long run.
2. Great. You got the time out of the office, now you need to actually pay for the conference.
If you’d like your company to pay for the trip, you need to do your research. Show your manager what you can do to lessen the cost of the trip. Can you drive instead of flying or taking the train? Can you find a hotel roommate or stay with a friend in the host city? Some creative budgeting can help stretch dollars and make the trip more viable.
And if you’re starting a new job or renegotiating your current role, you could also think about negotiating for guaranteed professional development time and budget resources. These can be effective times to give persuasive reasons for why conferences will benefit both your career and the company.
3. There’s no budget to pay for your trip. Are there other ways to offset costs?
Reach out to the conference organizers directly. Often, your attendance can be subsidized or even covered in exchange for volunteer help throughout the event. By participating in activities such as mentoring college students or managing the website, you’re showing your dedication to supporting not only the organization but the future of journalism.
You can also pitch a session at the conference. Some conventions will offer free registration or discounted lodging for speakers or panelists.
Some conferences also have resources such as online forums that let attendees post requests for roommates, which can help reduce the costs of your lodging. (And help you make a new friend!)
If you want to think long-term, you can work to become a member of the conference’s host organization. In addition to the increased likelihood of being chosen for volunteer privileges, you’re also affording yourself a higher level of industry exposure and job opportunities.
4. Your tickets are booked and you’re all registered. Here’s how you can make the most of the conference sessions once you arrive
When you finally arrive at the conference, the stress of maximizing your time there can be overwhelming. It’s important to remember that you won’t be able to attend everything, but you can definitely learn to prioritize.
Look at the schedule in advance and pick out sessions you want to attend. This will help you understand when and where the workshops and panels are in relation to each other. You should also craft backup plans. Some sessions may be filled by the time you get there or they could be uninteresting. Don’t be afraid to leave and head to another session that will be more productive.
5. Conferences are so much more than just the schedule, don’t forget to network and meet other people.
Often, the most valuable parts of conferences happen in the hallways or over meals or cups of coffee. Many conferences publish attendee lists ahead of time, and you can reach out to people to schedule meet-ups while you’re both there.
Also, don’t be afraid to just approach people you see wandering around. Everyone is there to network just like you, so these really aren’t uncomfortable asks.
“You generally don’t have that amount of talent in one room at one time,’’ said Truong.
Don’t forget to take business cards and resumes to distribute to anyone that asks. These resources can help you establish lasting relationships.
6. The conference doesn’t end when you go home.
If you do happen to meet someone and gather their information, make sure to follow up after the conference.
You never know how connections will play out in the long term, and it makes a great impression to let new contacts know that the conversation you shared was memorable.
“I can’t tell you how often I give my information and zero people follow up with me, even though 50 people took my card,” Truong said. “So if the one person follows up, I’m impressed.”
But even as you’re working hard at a conference to advance your career or make lasting connections, you shouldn’t forget to embrace the experience. It can be a privilege to be surrounded by the best and brightest in the industry and you should celebrate your hard work and what you’ve accomplished by being there.