5 Must-Do’s Before Attending a Journalism Convention

Summer is typically a time for rest and relaxation, but it can also be perfect for working toward your professional aspirations. This season has numerous journalism conventions offering workshops, career expos and networking opportunities — including the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (July 12-15), the Asian American Journalists Association (July 19-22), The National Association of Black Journalists (Aug. 2-6), the Native American Journalists Association (Aug. 10-12) and The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists (Sept. 7-10). They can serve as a one-stop shop for achieving multiple goals: making industry connections, learning new skills and even getting that dream job. 

At NBCU Academy, our team put together a list of what we wished we knew before attending our first conference — advice that’s applicable to returning attendees as well!  

Reflect on your professional goals and set intentions 

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Put down the suitcase and pick up a pencil. Your first task is to decide what you want to get out of the conference. Set goals and assess where you are in your career. Do you hope to connect with more industry professionals or find a mentor? If you’re looking for a new job, then you may want to meet recruiters at a career booth. If you’re attending as a young professional or interested in building news skills, you are probably seeking hands-on workshops. If you’re mid- or late-career, you may be attending as a teacher, a panel speaker or to receive an award.  

Knowing your “why” for attending will make the experience more rewarding. Narrowing your intentions will stop you from feeling overwhelmed in the moment. 

“Definitely come in with a plan,” said Scott Williams, talent acquisition director for NBCU News Group and NBCU Local. “You don’t need to have an exact answer, i.e., ‘I want this specific job,’ but a list of people or companies you want to make sure you get in front of is always helpful. There’s a lot to do and a lot of people to meet with at these journalism conventions, and being more targeted in your approach can help you maximize your time on the ground.”  

Set your itinerary 

Remember where you registered online for the convention? Open that same page and find the agenda. See what panels and workshops you want to attend each day and make a game plan. Do this as soon as possible, since some workshops limit the number of attendees.  

Multiple panels or workshops often happen simultaneously, so it’s important to know when and where to go in the venue. Note when the expo floor is open so you can stop by a booth when it’s convenient. Planning is even more helpful if you are participating in a panel and have only a few chances to sit in on other sessions.  

Once you know your schedule for each day, dig deeper to see who is speaking and registered. Note which news organizations are sponsoring events because you may run into them at a booth or in the hallways. Write up questions to ask during their session or if you get a chance to introduce yourself.  

Convention portals may also have networking integrations where attendees can connect. Ask your co-workers, classmates and friends if they are also going, that way you have a group to grab meals with and share panel notes. 

Once you are registered and have a game plan, it’s time to book your transportation and lodging. Most journalism conventions have partnerships with hotels and offer early discounts for rooms. If you can’t snag a convention rate, make sure you book at the venue of the conference or very close by. The last thing you want to do is travel far early in the morning or late at night with a jam-packed agenda. 

Polish your credentials 

Make sure your social media, especially LinkedIn, is up to date. Once you register for an event, association portals will sometimes connect to your social media so fellow attendees can get in touch. You can also swap profiles with people you meet on the ground if you are hesitant to share your phone number or email.  

If you are seeking a job, be sure to update your resume and website with your best and relevant work samples. You may want to print some copies of your resume to have on hand if you are seriously job searching. Recruiters will often accept them at expo booths.  

Williams also said it’s good to bring a card with a QR code that goes to your LinkedIn profile. “Resumes get lost or aren’t updated,” he said. “Connections are forever!” 

And don’t forget your elevator pitch. If you’re meeting someone new, having a prepared sentence or two about who you are and why you’re there helps ease anxiety. 

“Showcase your accomplishments, not your experience,” Williams said. “What makes you special? What sets you apart? Put your best stuff on your reel or portfolio. Highlight the stories you broke or the breaking news you knocked out of the park. You’re a storyteller, and pretty much any story worth telling is engaging.”  

Prepare your self-care routine 

Journalism conventions come with long days and socializing sprints. For an introvert, this is a draining endeavor. But you can do many things to combat fatigue and maintain your normal schedule.  

Prepare for any time-zone difference if the convention is far away. Talk with your team about operating under new hours if you’re able, or adjust your sleep schedule accordingly leading up to your departure date. If you’re worried about sleep, be sure to close those blackout curtains and use an eye mask to block out sunlight.  

Rushing from session to session makes for forgetful eaters, so be sure to keep snacks with you or plan meals so you don’t go hungry when short on time. Take a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated and help prevent bad breath! 

There will be lots of walking every day, but if you normally work out at a certain time, incorporate a scaled-back routine. 

In the end, you can’t do it all, so don’t be flustered by FOMO. Be in the moment and actively listen. Don’t stress about skipping a late-night social event if you’re too tired. It’s better to relax and get the sleep you need than “power through” with a brave face. You’ll make a better impression if you’re fresh in the morning. 

Make a packing list 

OK, it’s time to roll out the suitcase. Check the forecast for the week of your conference to plan outfits accordingly. The number one thing you need is comfortable shoes. Avoid blisters by bringing two options to switch it up.  

“The best packing tip I can give you is to have two pairs of shoes — one for walking around and waiting and one for meetings because you are constantly on your feet,” said Williams. “There’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable as you’re sitting down with someone from a company you want to work for.” 

Also, pack professional outfits that are wrinkle-resistant and light to avoid overheating. Make sure you try them on and feel confident in each outfit. There’s nothing more stressful than a last-minute run to a store. Also, bring a few outfits for evening events — nothing too fancy or stuffy, but something that still conveys you’re still professional.

Other items to add to your packing list: 

  • Day bag – with a designated spot where you can put business cards 
  • Notebook and pen – even if you take notes digitally 
  • Foldable duffle bag – for all the swag you will bring home 
  • Passport – if you’re traveling internationally 

Journalism conventions can make for unforgettable trips. By planning, you can head into the conferences reassured to find what you came for. 

*Special thanks to NBCUniversal’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team for their insights from many years of convention attendance: David Valdez, Ryan Ruggiero, Kira Wales and Scott Williams. 

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Victoria Barry Carolan

Victoria is an associate producer based in Washington, D.C. with NBCU Academy’s content team. She also is The Weekly Rundown newsletter editor and TikTok admin. Previously, she was a production assistant for “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” and a desk assistant in the DC Bureau.