I am writing today from an undisclosed location from an undisclosed conference.
So I'm in Washington DC this weekend attending the SEME conference. The conference itself is in its 10th year and has quite the impressive list of speakers, including but not limited to David Abrutyn who is the Senior Vice President, Global Head of Consulting at IMG all the way to Mark Waller, the CMO of the National Football League (NFL).
What I like about SEME is that it is a smaller more intimate sports conference that allows attendees direct one-on-one access to people who can make or break your path into the sports industry.
What I dislike and what drives me up the wall is how completely unprepared a large if not majority amount of attendees are for the conference itself. If I hear "how do I go about getting an informational interview" asked again of a director, I think I'm going to cry. We're all young and unknowing at some point in our lives, but that's no excuse for being lazy in an industry that requires you being proactive and self sufficient if you want a job. So, here are a few things that even the most novice of conference attendees can do in an hour:
1) [5 minutes] Ask yourself why it is you're attending the conference in question. A basic step that so many people fail to think about. Are you dead-set on getting a job in the sports industry? Are you potentially interested in getting a job in the sports industry? Or are you simply curious or something in-between?
It doesn't matter, everyone is welcome at conferences - provided you can afford going. Once you've answered this, you should have an idea of what it is you want to get out of the conference.
2) [5 minutes] Depending on how you answered the last question, you probably have a different set of goals. Most conferences list who is coming to speak. Sure, these lists may not be finalized until the last minute in some cases, but I'm sure there's a pretty close to finalized roster weeks, if not months before the actual conference. So you have your goals and you know who's going to be attending the conference. Log in and print the roster and agenda out.
3) [10 minutes] Great, you know why you're attending, what your goals are, and you've done some research to know who's attending the conference. Time for a game-plan. Let's start with an example:
You love marketing and strategy and want to work specifically in social media. While at a conference, you see Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and a little ways away Joe Smith who is a marketing director for a minor league baseball team. They're both standing alone and you can pick one or the other to talk to. Who do you choose to talk to?
Ironically, the masses pick Cuban. Don't get me wrong, Mark Cuban is a fun guy to hear speak and to talk to. I'm a huge fan of him and he's an incredible businessman. But why do most people NOT talk to Joe Smith in this example? After all he's your in, he's the guru of knowledge (especially if he's from a minor league team and has most likely has a wide breadth of experience and knowledge himself).
Take my advice, Joe's the guy you want to talk to - have a game-plan.
4) [30-60 minutes] The best way to reach these goals is to... drum roll please... research. Do some due diligence. You don't have to spend weeks researching, or even a day, but we live in a day and age where Google or <INSERT OTHER SEARCH CHANNEL> is an arm lengths away. For the love of Ditka (see what I did there Bears fans!?) please do something!! No more excuses.
OPTIONAL/ MORE PREP
5) Complete the first four steps listed above and you will be ahead of the pack - way ahead. I could write another 10,000 words on tips and advice, but that might defeat the purpose of a quick way to prep. However, here are some quick additional thoughts:
i) Develop your story and be able to deliver it in 15 seconds.
"I'm Tim Thomson and I came back to school for a business degree in order to break into the sports industry. I had the opportunity to work for the Charlotte Bobcats in their finance department this past summer and would love to speak with you about opportunities with the Tennessee Titans."
ii) Don't be the person talking to someone for 5 minutes while there's a line behind you. Introduce yourself, ask your question (singular, aka one), get their info, move-on....
iii) I have never ever ever never ever heard of anyone getting their dream job by simply dropping/ giving their business card to a professional... do you think they're turning toward their drawer (or most likely trash cans) to the 50,000 business cards that they were handed at the last conference to fill a job opening? Get real. If they ask you for your business card, great, but until then keep that puppy parked in your pocket and get their info. Follow-up with them - shocker I know.
iv) Button your shirt and tuck it in. We all have different styles and preferences. Looking and dressing like K-Fed circa 2001 isn't going to win anyone over.
v) If you can't ask a question in under 10 seconds, don't ask it. I love hearing myself talk, but I don't want other people knowing that - trust me, neither do you.
vi) When researching people you want to talk to, connect the dots. You both went to the same college or both love to frisbee golf? I'm no Einstein but maybe try working that in somewhere...
vii a) Be genuine in what you say and who you are. Don't say you want to work in finance if you want to work in marketing.
vii b) If you're willing "to work anywhere in sports" get ready to work anywhere but sports - that was a pretty clever play on words... I claim credit for coining that phrase as soon as it catches on.
Seriously though, know what you want to do within the industry.
viii) Don't be a super fan.
ix) Have a strong handshake, look who you're talking to in the eye, etc, etc, etc.