I spent the past week representing my company at two different trade shows. I am exhausted.
The entire time I was out there, I had to be “on” while enduring the basic conference schedule: up early for a breakfast, catch a seminar, talk to potential partners/customers at our booth instead of eating lunch, chat at coffee break “networking” sessions, circulate through cocktail parties and make lively conversation with twenty strangers packed around a dinner table. Rinse and repeat. The big question became, “How can I keep this up?”
Here’s what I learned about thriving and not collapsing at your next conference.
1. Know your pitch
When I used to work for The Metropolitan Museum of Art or Disney Theatrical, people understood who I was and what I did right away. But now I work for a startup called Show-Score, which I need to explain. And so I learned to do in the simplest way possible. Depending on who my audience is, Show-Score is “Rotten Tomatoes for theater” or “Trip Advisor for theater”. This saved my life. You don’t have the time or energy to give a ten-minute spiel everytime you meet someone new at a conference, so learn how to explain your business or product in one simple and intriguing phrase.
2. Don’t talk business nonstop
I’m in sales, and sometimes I worry that I sound like an endless commercial. I am passionate about my company, but no one wants to hang out with a packaged pitch. A quick sales moment is fine on the trade floor, but when you sit down to dine or grab drinks with colleagues at the bar, what’s your go-to conversation? I like finding out where people are from, what sports teams they like and what movies they’ve seen recently. And if you are a conference where interests are shared, lean on that. At the ticketing conference I went to, I learned so much, like how the same venue will take a completely different approach to selling tickets to a college basketball game versus selling tickets to a concert. (Okay, that may only be interesting to a ticketing nerd like me, but you get the idea).
3. Take ten minutes of Zen
I must attribute this advice to a former colleague. We may not have time to grab a power nap, but we can all grab ten minutes of alone time at some point in the day. If you are on a conference floor, walk away from the booth, find a quiet spot and zone out for a full ten minutes. Don’t scroll through your Twitter feed, don’t check email. Just chill and rebuild your headspace.
4. Talk less, smile more
For you musical fans, you’ll get the Hamilton reference of this line. (I can’t help it, I work in theater!) But the point here is that when you’re dealing with tons of people, realize that you don’t always need to be the one talking. Spend time listening. And smile, damn it. I have made more connections with people at conferences just by smiling at them than by talking. It usually happens during a shared experience like being stuck on an endless line trying to get Starbucks before a string of meetings starts. Or I’ll just smile at someone who looks as exhausted as I am at the end of the day. Try it and your whole mood lightens, too.
5. Wear comfortable shoes, dress your best
For women, high heels without backup flats is a rookie mistake. And for men, don’t buy new shoes right before hours on a trade floor and expect to break them in. Make sure you wear something you can easily walk around in for an entire day that makes you look professional and feel confident. Same goes for your outfit. I have a few dresses that make me feel on top of the world. A friend of mine loves to change out his pocket squares to give both his look and his confidence a boost.
6. Go easy on the booze
Yes, a conference can mean lots of cocktails but I always follow each drink with two glasses of water. Or sometimes I just fake it completely and order seltzer with lime and sip slowly. There is always that temptation to have an all-night rager when we are on the road, but don’t forget you are there for work. Tomorrow you will need to be back “on” and a hangover is not going to help.
7. Sleep when you can
Five AM flights and time zone changes can seriously throw off your sleep schedule. So when you do finally get a chance to catch some Zs, sleep like you mean it. Plug your phone in away from your bed (the temptation of work email can wait till the morning), turn off the lights, pull the curtains closed and rest up. I almost never turn on the TV when I get back to my hotel room. The pull of late night talk shows means I get what is called “junk sleep,” which is when light and noise mess up sleep cycles and sleep-related hormone levels. You wake up exhausted and grouchy. Not exactly how you want to start an important day of networking.
And the eighth bonus tip: remember to have fun! I have learned so much at these trade shows, made great business connections and even a few new friends. Enjoy! And smile!