Oh the stories from our very first trip to WPPI… No, Jeff and I didn’t get crazy, stay up all night, and party until the wee hours of the morning doing Saki bombs and shouting “this is sooooooo staying in Vegas! Woo hoo!” Nope. We pretty much woke up, wandered the trade show floor by our two little selves, sipped some coffee, and tried to make eye contact with anybody that would talk to us. Awesome.
I can say with confidence that eventually it got a lot better than that.
Even though we felt completely overwhelmed at our first WPPI, this conference has proven to be a dynamic and integral experience for our business. Even though we felt totally isolated going into it that first time, we made quite a few friends that first year that made the entire trip more than worth it. And I say that with fervor because those friendships are ones we still cherish.
So if it’s your first time to WPPI, here’s what Jeff and I learned over our years of wandering the trade show floor.
1. Go Buddy Style: I won’t sugar coat it for you folks – going to WPPI by yourself can be super tough/not fun/totally anxiety-ridden. Unless you’re one of those extroverts that can actually walk up to perfect strangers and talk to them (I get shivers just writing that), then connect with a friend beforehand, find a roommate, attend mixers, and simply try not to go it alone if it’s your first time to WPPI. You’ll be glad you didn’t.
To help you out, Jeff and I will be hosting our annual San Diego mixer on one of the first nights of WPPI, and anybody who wants to make some new friends in a chill setting is welcome to attend. You can live anywhere in the US to attend – we don’t mind – but you will most likely meet a lot of San Diegans, so be ok with that. We’re totally chill, dude. (Follow us on Twitter to find out the details of our mixer a day or two before WPPI.)
Otherwise, there are plenty of other opportunities to make some new friends at the beginning of the conference, so check your conference schedule, stay tuned to Twitter, and take advantage of those opportunities.
2. Avoid the lines: I’m just gonna come out and say it – the platform talks weren’t exactly ideal last year. Not the actual speakers – they were absolutely terrific and inspiring. But attendees had to wait in long lines outside of the conference rooms for two or three hours in order to get into a platform talk, which isn’t normal. And then a lot of people didn’t actually make it into the talks because the rooms filled up quickly and the lines were extremely long.
WPPI is working to remedy the situation by offering PreBoard, a system to reserve a spot in your favorite talks, so definitely take advantage of that. But be prepared in case the lines get out of control again. Pick one or two talks for which you’d like to PreBoard or wait in line (then get to know your fellow neighbors in line – you never know who you’ll meet), and then check to see if any other speakers you’d like to hear are doing shorter presentations at vendor booths on the trade show floor (Canon, Pictage, Adobe, Sony, etc). This may help to maximize your conference education time.
3. Rule the Trade Show Madness: The Trade Show can be totally overwhelming, so only dare to go inside with a plan. Pick one or two products or services (i.e. albums, camera bags, post processing, backdrops, etc.) that you’d like to see in person and visit those booths first. Do your research online beforehand so you can be prepared to ask the vendors tough questions in person.
4. Write Your Elevator Pitch: You’ll be meeting a lot of people very quickly. Be prepared. Write a 30 second introduction of yourself that succinctly explains who you are, where you’re from, and what you do. Make sure it’s interesting, authentic, and relevant.
5. Be Comfy. Be Weightless: Carry as little as possible with you. Leave the laptop and camera gear in the hotel room (except for a specific shooting purpose), and take notes on your iPhone, iPad, or small notebook. In fact, I don’t even carry a purse with me most of the time, because the less stuff I have to schlep around, the less exhausted I get, and the more fun I ultimately have. And the more fun Jeff has too…
Sidenote: Comfy shoes, afternoon naps, and Burt’s Bees chapstick? Priceless.
6. 3G Won’t Work. Period: Turn your iPhone to the Edge network and then leave it at that. Don’t plan on blogging, emailing, Tweeting, Facebooking, texting, phoning, or using your well-paid data network for anything during WPPI – it will drive you entirely insane. If you must use it, then designate a few specific hours to seek out Internet and then forget about it for the rest of your time. Otherwise, you’ll just get so frustrated that for three days your Facebook status will read “AT&T and The WORLD are against everything good and moral. This. Stinks. Meatballs.” It took me three years to finally realize this.
7. Go Green: Don’t take the thousands of brochures that vendors tend to hand out on the trade show floor. If the company doesn’t have that exact same information on the Internet somewhere, then slap a Go Green sticker on their foreheads and move on.
8. Don’t Have TOO Much Fun (IF you know what I mean…): There is no shortage of parties during WPPI, but no matter how crazy the parties get, remember that you are still surrounded by your industry peers. WPPI is not the time to get crazy and wasted in Vegas – your girlfriend’s bachelorette party is. Grab some drinks, have a great time, but keep it under control.
9. Stay Healthy: It’s almost a guarantee – you will get sick after WPPI. The dry, thick Vegas air combined with long days and very little sleep usually add up to some sort of respiratory trouble by the time it’s all over. When you arrive, stock up on fruit and healthy snacks at the grocery store, then drink TONS of water during the day and try to eat healthy. It’s easier said than done, but I’ve been down for the count with blocked sinuses and a cough that sounds like dynamite is trying to blow up my lungs for the past three years, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s. Not. Fun.
And I can’t say it enough: comfy shoes, naptime, and chapstick are worth their weight in gold.
10. Be Authentic: Above anything else, remember this – there are no rock star photographers, just small business owners navigating the industry just like everybody else. Be real about who you are and where you’re coming from, and you’ll be repaid ten fold by deep, intimate, and honest relationships.
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE SURVIVED WPPI BEFORE- WHAT ARE YOUR MOST CREATIVE TIPS AND TRICKS? Comment below with your answers. Lucky winners will win WPPI Tradeshow passes.
Written by Erin Youngren
Jeff and Erin Youngren are international wedding and lifestyle photographers running one of the fastest growing boutique studios in the competitive Southern California market. Although based in San Diego, their deeply emotional style and passionate partnership has taken them from the streets of San Francisco to the canals of Venice to the family suburbs of Chicago to photograph extraordinary weddings and incredible couples. As leaders in the photographic community, they are passionate about helping other photographers build viable, authentic businesses, while building a photography community built on integrity and honest leadership.