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The Professional's Archive
Networking 101

On the Merits of Conventions

Getting Free Career Development - by Giving

The Professional
A Column on Career and the Asian Professional by Jhemon Lee

On the Many Merits of Conventions

I love conventions. Work-related conventions, hobby-related conventions, they're all great.

In a couple of days, I'm heading to the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) National Conference in Boston (check it out at Conventions like this are good for lots of reasons:

1. Just like in college, you have panels and workshops for your education and edification. Unlike college, you're free to drop in and drop out whenever you like, since you're not being tested on the subject matter. Just like in college, though, you're free to take a nap halfway through the talk.

2. Every conference has superstars of some sort or another--people that are at the top of your industry, organization officers, or honest to goodness real celebrities. Try to make a good impression on these VIP's, so that they'll remember you when they need a new VP of Operations or someone to star in their next commercial. In the case of real celebrities, the goal is to take photos with them while making the "V" sign with your fingers, and to try to think of something to say besides "I'm a big fan of your work."

3. Any good professional convention has a career/exhibitor fair. If you're looking for a job, it's a great one-stop shopping area for work opportunities, especially in today's depressed job market. If you're not looking for a job, it's a great one-stop shopping area for pens, key chains, and other freebies and trinkets (a.k.a. "swag," a.k.a. "Stuff We All Get"). When my best friend from med school visited my apartment with his wife and kid, I had more than enough toys to entertain his toddler, thanks to all of the stress balls I'd collected from these fairs.

4. Networking: Did you know that if I hadn't met co-founder Suzanne Kai at the 1998 NAAAP National Conference in Seattle, I wouldn't have this column today? You never know whom you might run into-anything from a junior high school classmate to your next business contact.

5. Conferences are not only a great excuse to visit another city, but the organizers go out of their way to show off their city to you. Since you share a profession or an interest in common with the convention hosts, they'll know what to direct you to. For example, comic book convention organizers can tell you where the comic book stores, arcades and fast food joints are; medical meeting concierges will tell you where the expensive restaurants are, so that you can talk some pharmaceutical rep into taking you there on the company tab. In addition, the hosts will do their darndest to keep you out of trouble. Getting a convention attendee killed is really bad for business (

6. There's a Broadway musical called "Brigadoon" (Gene Kelly starred in the 1954 film version). In it, two American hunters find a Scottish town that only exists one day every hundred years. In many ways, a convention is a bit like this. Once a year, it arises from the mists, lasts for a single weekend, and then disappears, reappearing the same time the next year. Funny thing is, there are some people that you'll see at the convention that you won't see for the rest of the year, and when you meet up again at the next convention, it's as if you just saw them yesterday.

There are plenty of other fun things to do at conventions-like taking advantage of discounts in the exhibitor room the last day of the convention since the vendors don't want to lug all of their products back home, or trying to talk your way into invitation only events, or playing the equivalent of phone tag with your colleagues on the message board.

But in all seriousness, conferences really are great-for education, for networking, for just getting out of the office. Go, especially if you can write it off on your taxes as a professional expense!

See you at the next convention!

AsianConnections Team columnist Dr. Jhemon Lee is a past Chairman of the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP), and remains an active officer. Dr. Lee is actively involved in many community organizations and is a practising radiologist in Southern California. He received his undergraduate degree at Harvard and his medical degree from the University of Maryland. To contact Jhemon, please send email to

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