1. Plan ahead. Know what you want from the conference. Is the purpose to learn a new technique? Find a tool to help you do your job better? Make connections? Meet someone from a particular company? Know why you are going and what your goal is for attending. Keep this goal in mind as you plan your visit.
2. Do a virtual visit. Check out the website. SIGGRAPH , a conference and exhibition on computer graphics and interactive technologies, runs from July 25 to July 29.The most important first step you can take before you start hiking through the Los Angeles Convention Center is to visit the website www.siggraph.org/s2010 . Whether you're interested in a job, new technology or meeting specific individuals, you'll be much more successful if you know where to look. Visiting the website before you go will save you hours and miles.
3. Take a different path. A number of years ago, I visited the job fair at SIGGRAPH. The queues for Pixar and ILM snaked across the room. I estimated that it would take several hours to get through those lines. All you could hope for at the end of the line was for a representative of the company to take your information and say, "Thanks for visiting our booth." Those company reps had no time to give feedback on anyone's work or application or to give a lengthy overview of the company. I estimated I could speak to nearly all the other employers in the time it would take to stand in one of the "popular" lines. So I walked up to one of the booths where the company rep looked lonely and she told me all about what they needed (a 3D modeler), what the starting salary was and company benefits, which included medical and dental plans and vacation. It was a staff job–a permanent position working for a major Fortune 500 company. I don't know if anyone else spoke to that recruiter that day. I thanked her for her time and moved on to some of the other job fair participants, who had no crowds clamoring to speak to them.
4. Don't wait until a conference to submit your work. During a normal week, Digital Domain gets about 50 applications. During a week when they advertise, DD gets about 250 applications. A few years ago at SIGGRAPH, I saw a friend who was a recruiter at Digital Domain carting away bins of reels and resumes. He estimated they get around 4,000 to 5,000 applications during SIGGRAPH. I asked him why he went through the torture of the job fair at SIGGRAPH and he told me "Because there might be two or three artists we wouldn't find any other way." To give your reel the best chance, apply to companies who will be at SIGGRAPH about six weeks before the show, so they have time to properly review your work. They may love it and set an appointment to meet with you during the conference.
(If you get an appointment during the conference, make sure you are there on time. Those slots are super valuable.)
5. Talk to everyone. If you are flying to SIGGRAPH or other large conferences, conventions, or festivals, start at the airport. It is likely that there are others on your plane headed the same way. Once you land, talk to people on the shuttle from the airport, on the bus from the hotel to the convention center, or standing in line to get your badge. Talk to those sitting next to you before the course starts, at BOF (Birds of a Feather) meetings, standing in line to speak to the presenters or recruiters at the job fair. You have something in common with everyone at a conference, convention, trade show or film festival.
Follow up after the conference and film festival with those you've met. My friend Christine Reynolds took our advice --"Never eat alone" -- to heart when she went to Sundance last January. As a volunteer, she was able to gain access to many of the events at the festival. She also had a parking pass which came in handy when she transported festival goers from one point to another. Some of her passengers were film producers, actors and other volunteers. She stayed in contact with those she gave a lift to, and they want to return the favor by giving her a lift in her career and new business.
6. Wear comfortable shoes. You'll be doing a lot of walking at any conference, trade show or film festival. Be sure you are in top shape and be prepared to do a lot of walking. (See point 2)
7. Know your limits. Don't party all night. Limit your alcohol consumption. Whenever you are at a trade show, conference or convention, you are surrounded by potential employers or colleagues. Don't do anything you'll regret later or that will impact your career in a negative way.
Keep your purpose in mind throughout the festival, conference, convention or trade show. Be open to other opportunities as well. Make connections with others who have similar interests to you. Have fun, use your time wisely, meet some new people and I'm sure you'll benefit greatly from any event you attend.
Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter, career coach, speaker and writer. She has a huge collection of business cards from various conferences and conventions. One of her goals is to get all the information entered in her computer so she can keep in contact with everyone. You can reach her for recruiting, speaking engagements, career coaching or resume revamps at PamRecruit@q.com.Her  "Career Coach" column can be read at http://mag.awn.com . Her Linkedin profile can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/in/pamelathompson . She presented the commencement address at Art Institute of Tampa last month.