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5 ways to get the most out of the next journalism conference

By Luis Gomez:

Conferences are opportunities to meet like-minded journalists, find jobs, learn new skills or simply recharge your batteries.

Life in a newsroom often revolves around chasing stories, finding sources, producing and packaging a segment, and ultimately meeting those deadlines. And when you account all the hours in the day, odds are you will not get much of an opportunity to learn a new set of skills every month or even every year.

Yet, career growth in journalism depends on acquiring new skills and staying relevant. Coding, video editing, or even solid writing are just a number skills most newsrooms seek in journalists today; they represent a foot in the door or one step above in the career ladder.

One solution: Attend a conference!

Journalism conferences offer access to workshops, insightful people, job opportunities, and that reassuring sensation that everything will be okay because now you know how to work with Google’s Fusion Tables. Everyone has a unique experience, we all walk away with different things.

Not sure where to start? Feel free to try any of these exercises at the next conference you attend: (Plus, I’ll share a list of upcoming conferences in California below.)

  1. Plan ahead: Sign up to a conference with intention—know why you want to attend, whether it is to meet a number of specific people or attend a workshop. Look at the full schedule and plan your day accordingly. Use the time gaps between workshops to mingle or schedule a lunch/coffee/beer meeting with someone. Try this tip: Email someone you want to meet ahead of time, preferably before the conference begins, and ask to pick their brain.
  2. Carry a notepad: Take notes, take notes, take notes at all times. Nothing says you’re truly invested in what people have to say like taking notes while they talk. Yes, conferences are like classrooms and you will benefit from writing down information. Try this tip: Use your notepad to write down notes about someone new you met, whether it’s about where they work or what they do.
  3. Ask questions: Stick around after a session, ask questions to the presenters, ask questions to the organizers. Walk around the booths, ask questions. Spend every hour asking questions. And take down notes. Try this tip: Here’s some good questions to ask someone you meet: What are the pressing challenges in your newsroom and how would you solve them? What will be the journalism jobs in 10 or 15 years? If you could run your own newsroom, which existing brands would you emulate and why?
  4. Mingle, mingle, mingle: Rub shoulders with strangers. And if that’s not your thing, recruit someone you know to help make an introduction. It is perfectly OK to leverage anything (food, drinks, people, anything) to start a conversation with a stranger. Try this tip: Arrive early for a workshop, stand by the door and hand out your business cards and introduce yourself with a handshake. People will remember you for being bold and proactive.
  5. Keep in touch: After it’s all said and done, you will have walked away with a renewed sense of purpose in your career not just in the skills yo pick up but also in the people you meet. Follow up with those people you met and maintain those relationships. Try this tip: Make your follow-up email short and interesting, add a GIF or a scenic photo of where you live. It adds a personal touch and makes you stand out.

Now to the good part. Here’s a list of upcoming journalism conferences in California where you can try any of the above tips:

  • V3con (AAJA-Los Angeles) June 26 to 27 in Los Angeles, CA
  • AEJMC 15 (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) Aug. 6 to 9 in San Francisco, CA
  • AAJA National Convention (Asian American Journalism Association) Aug. 12 to 15 in San Francisco, CA
  • Coming Home (National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association) Sept. 3 to 6 in San Francisco, CA
  • ONA15 (Online News Association) Sept. 24 to 26 in Los Angeles, CA
  • ASNE-APME 15 (American Society of News Editors) Oct. 16 to 18 in Palo Alto, CA

Also, across the country:

  • NABJ Conference (National Association of Black Journalists) takes place Aug. 5 to Aug. 9 in Minneapolis, MN.
  • Excellence in Journalism (National Association of Hispanic Journalists) Sept. 18 to 20 in Orlando, FL

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