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Creative Career Coach: Hot Tips for Attending Conferences and Festivals

SIGGRAPH is coming to Los Angeles August 6-10 – have a plan to make the most of your time at the event, or any other such industry gathering.

One of the premier conferences for computer graphics, SIGGRAPH is coming to the Los Angeles Convention Center from August 6 to August 10.  Here are a few “hot” tips to make the most of a visit to SIGGRAPH or any other conference. 

Have a plan. Know what you want to get out of the conference. Know your goals before you go. It’s easy to get distracted. Know what you want to learn about, what you want to see, what sessions you want to sit in on… and then create a schedule. The most important first step is to visit the conference website. Whether you're interested in new technology or meeting specific individuals, you'll have much more success if you have a plan. Map out the show floor before you visit the exhibits. Visiting the website before you go will save you hours and miles. Whether you want to find a tool to help you do your job better, learn a new technique, or meet someone from a particular company, plan your visit to meet your goals.

Opportunities are everywhere to make connections. Talk to people in line. You have something in common with all attendees – an interest in computer graphics. Here’s a chance to meet people from all over the world. A few years ago, I attended SIGGRAPH and while waiting in the front row for the first session on papers to start, I looked left, right, and all around - instead of meeting people face to face and expanding their networks, everyone's nose was in a screen. The point of going to a conference is to have interactions with like-minded people. Make sure you make a connection with at least two new people a day, no matter how shy you may feel, or difficult the effort may seem. Prepare a brief introduction before you attend any conference or festival so after you find out what the other person does you can confidently and quickly introduce yourself with a thumbnail sketch. For example: “I’m Pamela Thompson. As a career coach, I help creative people succeed. I’m also a recruiter specializing in animation and visual effects.” Some simple preparation will help you immensely.

Take plenty of business cards with you and make sure to follow up with those you meet. Leave room in your schedule to discover something new. Attend a Birds of a Feather event or see some short films. Visit the Art Gallery, Emerging Technologies, or attend the Electronic Theater and watch some cutting-edge computer graphics. The exhibits pass gives you access to the exhibit hall and the job fair. If you are in the job market, create a disposable portfolio which includes screenshots from your demo reel, your shot breakdown (explaining what you did on every shot), and your resume. Include only your best work. Put your current contact info on every page including a phone number of where you can be reached during the conference. Include your website. Make enough copies of your disposable portfolio (also called a “leave behind”) so you can give one to every employer you are interested in. Make a few extra copies in case you run into someone you did not expect to meet.

Submit your work before the conference – it is more likely to get a proper review if you send in your work several weeks before a large event (six weeks or more ahead is best). The companies planning to be at the job fair are listed on the conference’s job fair page. A few years ago, I saw a recruiter friend at SIGGRAPH who estimated they receive around 4,000 applications during the week of the conference (normally when they advertise, they get 250 and when they don’t advertise they get 50 in a week). When I asked him why he spent the money, time, and energy to recruit at SIGGRAPH, he answered. “Because there might be two or three artists we wouldn’t find any other way.”

Use your time wisely, keep your purpose in mind, and you're sure to have a HOT time.


Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter, career coach, speaker, and writer. First introduced as a course at SIGGRAPH, her Career Navigation Program is a huge hit with students all over the world. She has presented at Ringling in Florida, NBCC in Canada, and for the MDA in Singapore. You can contact Pamela at