It's like Christmas in September for logistics and supply chain junkies like us. Each fall, the profession's preeminent thought leaders gather for a four-day exchange of gifts in the form of industry knowledge. While we have called it Christmas in September for years, it's officially known as the Annual Conference of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP).
This year, roughly 4,000 logistics and supply chain professionals will assemble at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., for the event, which takes place Sept. 25 through 28. Attendees can avail themselves of thought-provoking keynote presentations, 90-plus education sessions organized into 16 tracks, 25-plus hours of scheduled networking time, and a chance to check out the latest in logistics and supply chain solutions at the popular Supply Chain Exchange.
In an era when schedules and funding are painfully tight, you may only have one or two opportunities a year to attend a conference. If that is the case, CSCMP's Annual Conference should be on your short list. That's not just because it offers unparalleled education opportunities (which it does). It's also because conferences in general are networking gold. As Alaina Levine, president of Quantum Success Solutions and author of Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere, observes, "Conferences provide singular opportunities to ... appropriately promote yourself and your brand, and discover opportunities that can lead to employment, awards, and other game-changing career experiences."
But it's not enough to just show up. To get the most from a conference, you have to be smart about how you approach it. In an article on the YoungUpstarts website ("15 Proven Tips to Help You Make Career-Enhancing Connections at Your Next Conference"), Levine lays out some obvious—and not so obvious—tips on how to do that.
First, Levine writes, don't wing it. Come up with a plan before you go. She recommends reviewing the conference program about a month in advance and creating a schedule that leaves room for both formal and informal learning. "Set aside time to attend not just talks and seminars, but also special events such as town halls, career events, meet and greets, and other networking-centered affairs," she writes.
In the same vein, Levine recommends setting up appointments in advance. "If you know you'd like to meet with fellow attendees, request appointments with them at least two to three weeks before the conference," she urges. "They are busy too, so it's wise to get on their calendars beforehand."
As for the meetings themselves, aim to keep them short. Levine advises would-be networkers to request brief appointments, such as a meeting over coffee. "The other person may not have time for a lunch or dinner, but he can probably squeeze in 15 minutes over a cup of joe."
Once they arrive at the conference, Levine urges attendees to "leverage the exhibit hall." "Don't just wander around aimlessly looking for free pens and cup holders," she cautions. "Instead, try to learn new things and make connections that will serve you well long after those free pens have run dry.
Consider "leveraging" mealtimes as well. Meals are an often-overlooked opportunity for networking, according to Levine. If you see someone eating alone, she says, ask if they'd mind if you joined them. "Chances are the other person will invite you to sit," she says. "And since you're attending the same conference, you'll automatically have something to talk about." You might even make a valuable contact.
One final tip related to networking (and this is a suggestion from us, not Levine): Put your mobile device in your briefcase and leave it there. If your eyes are glued to your phone, tablet, or other gadget, you could miss out on a connection that could change your career. So, as we've said in this column before, "Look up!"