Not only does the Sunbelt Ag Expo attract industry professionals, vendors, and community leaders with its many exhibits, it also brings in a large number of students and young adults on the hunt for a job. Many visit on school trips or with their local FFA or 4-H chapters. College students from all over the Southeast come to participate and volunteer. For undergraduates, a visit to the Expo often means more than a chance to pick up some free swag. This is an opportunity to make connections outside their college program. They can network with industry professionals, gain a better understanding of the various career options in agriculture, and get hands-on experience in the field. Not to mention a chance to connect and relate with other students in agriculture. Regardless of if you’re still in high school or well into your college years, here are a few tips and tricks for making the most of your time at the expo this year.
- Get engaged! There are so many seminars and events going on that allow you to interact directly with industry professionals and ask questions. Exhibitors want their audience to take part in what they’re teaching so that you both get the most out of the experience. By getting involved in the action, you are guaranteed to learn more and stand out.
- Don’t be afraid to start up a conversation. Whether it’s speaking with someone after a live demonstration or while waiting in line for lunch, there’s plenty of ways to make new connections. Starting with small talk is a great way to open up a conversation. Many people are curious about students and their future plans which you can use to help transition into a real conversation. Try to find something you both have in common, such as a mutual acquaintance or connection to an organization.
- Attending virtually? No problem, there are still plenty of ways to create connections. The events and seminars often identify who will be presenting. A quick social media search of the organization or person can provide you with plenty of ways to interact, connect, and get a better idea of who they are. Companies often have the option for you to opt into their e-newsletter through their website which is a great way for you to stay up-to-date.
- Get familiar with the unfamiliar. Since the agricultural industry is so broad, it’s easy to get comfortable in your niche. Take the time to explore exhibits and meet people outside your sector of the industry. You want to have variety in your professional contacts. The Expo gives you plenty of opportunities to meet someone new with a different area of expertise than you.
- Make the most of your visit. Colleges from all over the Southeast come to the Expo to showcase their undergraduate and graduate programs. Students can get a better idea of what areas of study are offered by each college and find the right fit for them. This is a unique chance to meet with professors and current students from a variety of schools. Valuable connections can be gained by prospective students within their program of interest before they even enroll.
- First impressions matter. Simple courtesy to those around you can help you stand out in the right way. When meeting someone for the first time, it’s important to maintain eye contact, attentiveness, and good manners to show you are engaged. You never know who’s watching so make sure you’re on your best behavior while attending the Expo. Also, don’t forget to dress the part for the occasion; athletic shorts and a t-shirt are nice, but if you are going to network, opt for nice jeans or khaki pants with a nice shirt.
- Set personal goals for your time at the Expo. If you know what you want before the event, it’ll make it easier not to get distracted once you’re there. Going in, try to set reasonable goals and have realistic expectations. Ask yourself “how do each of these specific goals help me reach my ultimate objective of expanding my professional network?”
- Keep a positive attitude and an open mind. Creating connections with new people as a student takes patience. You simply aren’t going to click with every person you meet. You never know when or where you’ll meet that new contact, especially at the Sunbelt Ag Expo. Even your current connections can help you by introducing you to their contacts.
- Follow up with your connections. The connections you make have to be maintained to ensure you have a way to stay in touch. Prior to the show make sure you have a professional email you can pass on to anyone you meet. You can also add any new connections on LinkedIn, the professional networking platform. This is a great resource for students trying to stay connected with any industry professionals they might meet.