When I was an intern in Washington, DC, I networked my way to a State Director position after serendipitously meeting the National Field Director of Organizing for America, Jeremy Bird, at a conference. That conference cost hundreds of dollars to attend, as conferences typically do. Living on a meager internship stipend and paying rent in Washington, DC meant that those costs were prohibitive.
Follow Ladders on Flipboard!
So how did I get into that conference? I got in using the same bartering method I used to talk my way into a dozen or so conferences while I was a scrappy young student. A few weeks in advance of the conference, I would email the organizers by hunting their contact info down online.
Make Your Pitch
In a sentence or two, I explained who I was, why I was passionate about getting more involved in their field, and how attending their conference would help me in doing so.
I offered to help set up the conference materials, tables and chairs, and all kinds of infrastructure early in the morning before the day started. I offered to assist with the check-in table and support staff with any day-of errands. I offered to stick around afterwards to clean up and break down everything. I asked if there was any way I could serve as a volunteer to help support the conference’s overall goals.
Be Clear About What You Need
This typically worked best with small to medium-size conferences, since larger operations tend to have entire teams of support staff handling things and might even believe a volunteer might just get in the way.
In my pitch email, I explained exactly what I would need to make this happen:
“Would you be open to waiving the conference fees in exchange for my day-of volunteer support?”
“Would you be open to me paying a discounted fee of $100 to attend in exchange for my support in the morning?”
Whatever my ask was, I was explicit about it. I spelled out in bullet points exactly what I was offering and exactly what I was asking for.
From there, if I didn’t get a response after a few days (conference organizers are busy people), I made sure to bump up my request. Asking for something like this requires persistence and unabashedness. What did I have to lose?
From there, if I did get a positive response – which I’m happy to say I did often! – I made sure to follow through on my commitments impeccably. When talking your way into a free conference ticket, you have to come through on what you said you’d do. It’s a reflection of your character and will make or break your relationship with that organizer for years to come.
95% of following through means showing up on time – and that will mean getting there early. If you committed to help with set-up and sign-in, you better get there early and communicate swiftly with your point of contact to let them know you’re on your way or when you arrive.
I recently heard from a Bossed Up community member who used this exact strategy to talk her way into a conference that also helped her land an interview and I was reminded of just how incredibly effective conferences can be for networking. Whether you’re a student, a job-seeker, or someone just facing some financial stress that makes those conference fees prohibitive, never be afraid to ask for what you need.
Here at Bossed Up, while we rarely need volunteer support, we always offer scholarships for those in need. It’s spelled out right in the FAQ section on the Bossed Up Bootcamp registration page.
So if you’re considering a conference to boost your skills and invest in your career this season, don’t be shy about talking your way to a discounted ticket or volunteer role. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting yourself into the rooms where you can meet the industry players who might completely transform your career.