Getting the Most from your Special Libraries Conference Experience, Part 2

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram

July 16, 2019
Each year I update this list of tips based on the hundreds of conferences I have attended—and the feedback and tips of friends and colleagues. As we navigate the main conference season, it’s time to put them out there again. I’ve got so many that I’ve put them into two posts! Here’s Part 2.

In my first post on this topic, I covered The Basics, Before the Conference, and The Sessions. Please read on for tips regarding:

The Exhibits

  • Remember your business cards. You can enter draws. You can have materials sent to you later. You can have contacts follow up later with more detailed information. You can look professional.

**Write notes on the back of the business cards you pick up to remind you what you learned or what you’d like to follow up on later – even if it’s just to visit an exhibitor’s Web site or request a product trial.

Don’t know how to approach a booth? It’s easy. Just ask the top three questions…

  • What do you have that’s new?
  • Can you demo something interesting for me about your new/enhanced/improved products?
  • Are you making (or have you made) any announcements here or in the past year?
  • Learn a stump speech about you and your employer to answer the booth staff’s questions. They are trying to learn about YOU in order to make sure they can give you the information you need in context. Being shy or furtive about your needs denies you the right to ever complain that your vendors don’t understand you!
  • Some Exhibitors host hospitality suites for their best or prospective customers. If you’re invited, go. They’re often fun and you’ll meet key players in the library world.
  • Others invite you to workshops, demonstrations, announcements, breakfasts and parties, etc. Don’t accept the invitation and then blow them off. It’s rude.
  • DON’T be embarrassing! Hoovering through the exhibit hall looking for free pens and avoiding eye contact with anything resembling booth staff is not the image librarians want to project.
  • Please remember that vendor staff are also often professional librarians. Booth staff may not only be account managers; they’re sometimes vendor executive team members and key training or customer service staff. This is your chance to develop deeper relationships with key vendors and ask specialized questions.
  • DO pace yourself. Look at the map and choose whom you absolutely MUST see and go there first. Better yet – make appointments in advance.
  • DO ask as many questions as you like. If the booth person doesn’t know the answers, they will find someone who does and get back to you later. Cell phones work wonders in booths these days.
  • DO attend vendor demos in the booth – these give you an idea of what’s there that might be new or they might serve as mini-training sessions.
  • DO help yourself to the marketing materials in the booths – that’s what they’re there for! If the vendor offers a ‘goodie’, make sure you have a conversation and learn what’s new.
  • DON’T assume that your old familiar vendors haven’t changed and that you know everything about them. This is your opportunity to learn what’s new and different. Everyone evolves (including us)!
  • If you have no idea what a vendor does – they’re completely new to you – ASK. This is your opportunity to learn something new. Booth designs are notorious for not telling you WHY you’d want to talk the people there – overcome that barrier.
  • Remember that vendor staff are people first. Don’t stereotype. Don’t be combative just for the fun of it—vendor bashing is a sport where no one wins. Be open to their suggestions—they’ve usually seen lots of libraries and library situations and have something to share. Many see hundreds of libraries and librarians a year. They know stuff.
  • DO wear comfortable shoes. There are rarely enough places to sit in the Hall.
  • DON’T be reluctant to say “No Thank You” if you’re not interested.
  • DO thank the vendors for sponsoring the conference in so many ways. As a result of their participation, your conference experience is definitely richer and less expensive.

Networking and Social Events

  • Take time for yourself on field trips, tours, or social events. You are working much longer hours at a conference than ‘average’ and it is just fine to take a break. You’ll definitely absorb more if you rest occasionally! There are no more martyr awards at the conference than there are at home.

Learn these ‘Ice Breaker Questions’. Even if you’re shy, they will often induce even the most recalcitrant and shy person to open up.

  • “Hi – I’m your-name-here and I’m from your-town-or-library-here. Where are you from?”
  • “What’s new at your shop?”
  • “See anything new at the conference?” “Attend any great sessions?” “Learn something new?”
  • Come to the conference with specific people, institutions and contacts you’d like to meet. Learn the art of the nametag glance to see what networking opportunities you might find. Don’t project false cliques or status on people – ALL of the people you’ll meet were in your shoes once.
  • You’re going to be in lots of lines (for food, for coffee, for meetings, etc.) Take this as an advantage and network with your line buddies – don’t just stand there.
  • Leave the office at the office – professional networking does not ALWAYS have to have a ‘pure’ business purpose. It’s great to have professional friends and acquaintances that are outside of your normal ‘box’. It stretches you and it’s one of the great values of the any conference.
  • Don’t horde your business cards – they’re not gold in your pocket – they’re like smiles – they only have value when they’re given away.
  • In general, assume anyone who’s wearing a ribbon is extra-approachable. They will tend to be people who have volunteered to make the conference a success. Help them by networking with them.
  • Local librarians staff the hospitality booth – ask their advice for restaurants and sights. They know. They live there! And they want you to LOVE their town.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people to join you for dinner or to set up dinner groups – eating is a great networking opportunity.
  • Be nice to a student. Welcome them to the profession by treating them as a colleague.
  • Always try to go to the conference wide event party. It’s guaranteed fun and you’ll make friends for life.

Getting Involved

  • Be positive – no one wants to be involved with a whiner. Librarians will listen because they’re polite but don’t take that as endorsement for bashing the association, the conference, individuals or vendors. People remember your positive contributions and interactions in a better way than negative ones.
  • Fill out the conference evaluation forms. That’s how your input gets to the conference planning teams who can make a difference.
  • You’ll probably meet your next employer at a conference. First impressions are important. Dress for the job you want.
  • Write a report or memo to your boss or team and explain the value of the conference to you and what you learned. Start laying the groundwork for coming back next year.
  • Volunteer – let people know that you’re interested in trying new things or experimenting with a role in your association, committee, unit, chapter or division. It’s the classic win/win situation!

The Association

  • Please make a point of attending the Annual Business Meeting. It’s where you can see the real work accomplished by the Association’s leadership and volunteers this year. You’ll also likely meet our Association’s Executive Director or CEO and staff. These folks are almost always in listening mode—so speak! Our staff works hard for us every day and at the Conference. Meet them and thank them. Speak up but use your skills – Board members are volunteers with challenges and dedicated.

Valuing Your Conference Experience

Here’s what I think are the best benchmarks that I use to value my conference experience:

  • I met at least one new person every day.
  • I learned at least one useful thing I didn’t know in a session every day.
  • I had at least one substantive discussion with a vendor about a new product that I might need.
  • I had fun, every day.

Stephen Abram, MLS

* These hints owe a huge debt to the Special Libraries Association Fellows.

<a href="" target="_self">Stephen Abram</a>

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram is a popular Lucidea Webinars presenter and consultant. He is the past president of SLA, and the Canadian and Ontario Library Associations. He is the CEO of Lighthouse Consulting and the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries. Read more of Stephen’s blog posts for Lucidea, and check out his book from Lucidea Press, Succeeding in the World of Special Librarianship!

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