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How to Survive a Tradeshow or Conference as a Student

Being a student has its perks; from student discounts to student-oriented events, we are given resources to be successful in our post-secondary careers. But once that is over, we are given a piece of paper that says ‘you are somewhat an expert in this field’ and a bill that is likely more expensive than a Toyota Corolla (yay student loans!) and where do you go from there? Where do you get a job in your field? Do you go to grad school in a pursuit for a better chance to get a job? No one really gave us a guideline in being an adult upon graduation so what do we do?

The ‘answer’ to that (but really there is no true answer to it) is networking. Even before thinking about graduation, you have to at least have a basic idea on what you want or what your industry offers. That means going to industry-related events; whether it be conferences, tradeshows and networking events, it is important to expose yourself to the industry so you know what you want and don’t want to do. But another problem arises and guarantee you that it goes through your mind: you are a student, no one in tradeshows will take you seriously, and you’re just there for the free samples. Well the truth is, going to tradeshows and conferences for the first time is nerve-wrecking so to ease your worries, here are some tips that a few people (including myself) suggest to follow:

  1. Have an objective in mind. What are your main goal(s) going to these events? Are you there to see new trends or changes in the industry? Are you there to network with companies for mentorship on your upcoming product? Are you there to see what potential companies to work in upon graduation? Or like me, are there to see new trends and write about it on say a blog post? You should have an objective in mind create a game plan. You’ll feel less nervous going to these events. Similarly, make an elevator pitch that relates to your objectives. Prepare you little spiel for vendors out there and look interested. Yes the samples are enticing but also be interested in their product because they will also do their little spiel to you.
  2. Dress for success. As cliche as it sounds, you have to look presentable when going to these shows. Business casual is the ‘outfit of the day’ and it shows through your clothing. You don’t need to wear a full tuxedo or gown but a dress shirt with an optional blazer or a nice blouse, pants/skirt should be good enough. Don’t go into a show or conference wearing jeans and sneakers or ‘streetwear’ because it shows unprofessionalism. For the ladies out there: save yourself and don’t wear high heels; or at least bring a pair of flats with you. In tradeshows and conferences, there will be a lot of walking and standing around so while looking great is the aim game, try to also be comfortable. Trust me on this, your feet will thank you later!
  3. Bring lots of business cards. Yes, you are a student but at the same time, if you want to connect with a sales manager or senior product developer or a fellow student after a tradeshow or conference, you want to give them some form of contact. Business cards are the best way to do it and you can put your social media on it too. Also if you think you brought too many business cards, think again! Depending on how big your stack is, it will be gone from 5 minutes to the whole day you are in the event. So don’t worry if you have a whole box full of business cards because I guarantee you that it will disappear quickly, just like your focus in the first ten minutes of a three hour lecture.
  4. DO NOT EXPECT A JOB IN THE EVENT! I know, it is very harsh but that’s the reality. Vendors in tradeshows are there to sell their product and not to find potential candidates to work in their company. That’s what job fairs and job boards like Indeed and FoodGrads’ job board (not a shameless plug here) are there for. They have their own objectives to fulfill and you are either benefiting them by buying their product or you’re just another bystander wandering around the tradeshow floor. In conferences, there are more chances to connect and potentially getting a job interview because their focus is to talk to other people in the industry and network. So it’s good to have your resume on you but going back to the previous point, it’s better to give them a business card.
  5. Conduct some research before attending the event. It’s better to know what activities are happening in the event. Whether it be a presentation on cannabis manufacturing to the Safe Foods for Canadians Act, research activities in the event that interests you. Some people felt that they connected more in these presentations than wandering around the tradeshow floor. And most people tend to be keen on what you have to say about the topic and a better place to ask questions.

All in all, these tips should help you out and lessen your worries. Sure you will go home with bags of bags of samples and business cards with a full stomach but at least you will have a great time in these events. And later on in the future, when you are trying to find a job after school you have those connections (ie. Business cards) laying around your dorm so use them! Best of luck in your first event and let us know what other tips you could give a student going to industry tradeshows/conferences.

About the author:

 Jennie Vallangca is a student in Culinary Innovation and Food Technology at Niagara College. If she is not in the kitchen cooking or baking, she is either in fencing practice or cooking up a storm as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces as an army reserves cook. Recently, she placed runner up at Eat Norths 2019 Rising Awards Scholarship Competition.


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