I attended RILA AP for the first time in 2018. It wasn’t my first conference, or my first networking event, but it was my first time at this one. It will most certainly not be my last.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association, Asset Protection is a massive event, full of presentations and breakout sessions to attend, along with an extensive expo to explore, and a number of networking opportunities. Of course, no one wants to miss a thing. But with so much going on, RILA AP can be overwhelming, particularly for those who are attending an event like this for the first time.
Whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran attendee, this survival guide can help you get the most out of your visit.
RILA AP Survival Guide
Before you start packing, you’ve got some homework to do.
Like I said, there’s a whole lot going on at every conference, especially one of this size. If you don’t plan ahead, it’s easy to get sidetracked and miss the parts that would be most valuable to you.
So step one is to know what you want out of the conference before you walk in the door. What are your personal and professional goals, and how can RILA help you work toward those goals?
- Are you looking to make connections in similar niched businesses, to maybe have a peer network to reach out to for help?
- Collaborate on a project, such as an ORC group?
- Meet new service providers?
- Find a mentor?
Set your goals beforehand and build a plan around that. Write out your plan, recheck it, and be sure to allow for a little flexibility.
There are dozens of sessions on a variety of topic offered at RILA AP. But not every session is for everyone. Research the topics available and attend the sessions that will help you grow. It’s tempting to view these events as a networking opportunity, but don’t choose the talks you attend based solely on who will be there; schedule separate time to chat with new professional contacts and compare notes with friends/coworkers.
Once you’ve determined which topics interest you, look up the presenter. Make note of their experience and expertise, and what you’d like to learn from them. Write down questions you may want to ask, either during the session, or with a follow-up email. Getting involved by asking questions can make a great impression with presenters and other attendees, which will help you build a strong professional network.
You should also research the vendors who will be there. At the 2018 conference, there were over 100 vendors participating- way too many for an attendee to visit them all. Determine which ones are most relevant to you and make a “must see” list to take with you.
Introducing yourself to strangers doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And even for those who are generally more comfortable, introducing yourself in a professional networking capacity can be a little different. So, prepare in advance with an elevator pitch. This formula is generally a short-and-sweet introduction, covering the important information clearly and succinctly.
Be sure to include:
1) your name/title/company
2) what you do
3) why you’re attending
While this isn’t totally necessary, it can certainly be a useful networking tool- especially if you’re an introvert.
The below Tedx will help you craft a good elevator speech.
Download the official RILA app, fill out your profile, and upload a photo. Keep it simple, friendly, and professional. Once you’ve got your profile set up, build your schedule of sessions you want to attend.
Since you’ll be thinking of technology while downloading the app, here are a few other apps I recommend:
1) Notability: I use this on my iPad and have yet to find a better note-taking app
2) Camcard: I store all my business cards here, and can add notes on contacts
3) LinkedIn: In case you need to make some quick updates or link with a new contact
4) Twitter: Post some updates, photos, and videos.
Now that you’ve got the prep-work finished, it’s time to pack! Besides the usual- don’t forget your toothbrush!- there are a few extra things you’ll want to bring along.
Make sure you have lots of business cards on hand– you’ll be giving them out to just about everyone you meet! If you think you might have to ration them, print more. Better to have extras than not enough.
Pack comfortable shoes– you’ll probably be spending a lot of time on the move. I recommend 2 pairs at least, so you can alternate days and let your shoes recover in between. Your feet will thank you.
Dress for success and all-day comfort. If you’re going to wear a suit, make sure it fits well and will be comfortable for a long day. Personally, I keep it simple with slacks and some nice collared shirts. Press your clothes or use this classic road-warrior trick: hang clothes in the bathroom of your hotel room, and run the shower hot for about 10 minutes, and the wrinkles will all be steamed out. Either way, make certain you’ll be both neat and comfortable all day.
Bring a bag or backpack to carry your notes and schedule with you, and to stow your swag from the expo. Stick an extra charger in there too, as power gets used up quickly.
Ready to go? Don’t forget your obligations outside of the conference!
Set up your email away messages. Be sure to include that you’ll be slow in responding, when you’ll be back in the office, and that emails are preferable for non-emergencies so you can follow up when you’re available.
And speaking of phone calls- don’t be THAT person. During the conference, keep your phone on vibrate. And if you get a call that must be answered immediately, excuse yourself from rooms during presentations. Be considerate of other people’s time by keeping your interruptions minimal to them.
THE MAIN EVENT
So you’ve made it to RILA AP- finally! Once at the conference, there are a few things you can do to increase the effectiveness of your networking, if that is your goal:
Don’t be afraid to ask for someone’s business card. They’re not baseball cards- you don’t get a prize for collecting the most- but there’s nothing wrong with cultivating a quality collection. When you make a connection, get their card and make a note on the back. (Or if you’re a tech junky like me, scan the card into your favorite app and make notes there.) Actually, remembering what you talked about with people will facilitate better follow-up/connections.
On the expo floor, engage with potential service providers- not just seeking freebies (who really needs 20 squeeze stress balls?)- but seek companies you are truly interested in. Check out vendors you want to learn more about, vendors who compete with your current contracts, a company you have a contract with but want to speak with a different person about issues/compliments. Maybe your company’s growing, and you need to know the service providers for a specific area. This is why researching beforehand is so important- it helps narrow down the list and provide guidance. But now that you have representatives face-to-face, take the opportunity to ask questions, set up a meeting, or just learn what’s out there.
If you’re on LinkedIn, make use of a few features to up your networking game. (If you’re not on LinkedIn, you can probably skip this section.)
Ever tried the LinkedIn Find Nearby feature? It allows people to be discoverable when they want to be, simply by geo-location. It is a nice feature to use at a conference- I will usually toss it on while at a meal, send an invite, say hi, make connections. To learn more about the feature, go here.
Also with LinkedIn, make sure to post a little about your experiences at RILA AP. Give a summary of a presentation, try to tag the presenter, utilize hashtags for discoverability, post videos of the expo hall, of yourself at the convention. Use this as a chance to talk about RILA AP, and what you are enjoying, but be mindful of others- don’t record full presentations, as that is rude to the presenter.
Besides LinkedIn, you can utilize other social media for networking purposes. If you use Twitter, you should also be active on there and promoting the convention. That’s the key- don’t promote yourself, promote the event. Others sharing your promotions will in turn promote you.
The RILA app also provides a virtual community for the attendees- get involved! Post pictures, fill out polls, take surveys, interact on the chat wall.
These are great ways to network, and it helps the event by promoting them to people that might have been on the fence about attending future events; seeing such great information will help make their decision. The more people that attend these events, the better they are. And while technology and social media are important tools at events like RILA, remember to look up! Make eye contact, speak with people, and don’t spend your weekend glued to your phone.
Some more tips to networking at RILA:
Eat meals with people you don’t know. Don’t just stick with your own circle of co-workers/friends- invite other people, sit with strangers. This is a simple way to network, and best of all, you have a built in ice-breaker; who doesn’t like talking about food?
Attend after-parties, and have fun! But remember, while the alcohol is free, it is still a reflection of you. Moderate your intake so you remain professional.
You’re there for networking, not dating. Be professional. Nothing will ruin your reputation faster than being THAT person.
Don’t feel like attending the after-parties, but still want to network? Try using the app Meetup. If you’re getting in early, staying a day later, or just want to have a small gathering, putting together a Meetup is a great way to meet people in your industry/interests.
While attending the events, the presentations, the expo, and everything RILA has to offer, it is highly important to take care of yourself. Stay hydrated, eat some snacks when needed. Don’t lose fall victim to an energy crash just because you skipped lunch.
After the conference ends:
Follow-up. Connect with people on LinkedIn, engage with them. Trying to meet all attendees is useless, but genuinely connecting with 10 people is powerful, and can help you build a strong professional network.
RILA AP is an exciting event with a lot to offer Loss Prevention professionals. I hope these tips help you make the most of it! Any additional advice or questions?- please share them in the comments!
I look forward to seeing you at RILA AP