Today I’ll be going to IFT17 in Vegas for 5 days to collaborate with emerging leaders, talk with potential vendors, dine with current vendors, meet some amazing friends and mentors, and in general, have a really good time.
IFT17 is truly the mecca of Food Scientists and most people who have studied food science have heard of the myths and legends. And some even have the chance to go.
This will be maybe my fourth time going to the expo. I remember having the opportunity going my freshman year at New Orleans. In fact, I have a picture.
As you can see, not much has changed…
The other two times in college, I was able to go for free because Cal Poly became a finalist in multiple product development competitions.
The dynamic changes a bit when working in industry. People actually want to talk to you because you might make them a lot of money. People will also wine and dine you, which is nice.
So I just want to give you some tips on how to really network. I’ll give some tips as a student, and as a professional.
As a Student
Be excited about everything
IFT can be overwhelming to students, but it’s actually not even the biggest expo in the food industry. Take advantage of talking to vendors when they’re not busy. Ask questions like “what does your company do?” or “how did you get this job?”. If you’re really interested in the product, like the newest natural purple food dye, you can ask the science behind it. Even a sales rep should handle your question. If he or she can’t, congrats, you learned something in college.
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Use the student card
The food industry is nice enough to be really interested in students. The companies who aren’t interested in your future are not worth talking to.
This is your chance to really ask questions about your future and where your education may potentially be going to. Aim for application scientists rather than sales managers, as they might be a bit more sympathetic.
Speaking of cards… do you need a business card? I disagree having them as a student but I know people who do use them. If anything, I would have resumes handy and if you have an exceptionally good talk with them, give them a resume and follow up with them when you get their card.
Don’t take the freebies, rather, ask for them
There are a lot of free things at IFT17. Food samples, straw hats, free bags, etc.
This is a challenge rather than a tip, but this will help in the long run. It’s rude for people to just grab bags or pens without permission. I’ve done it before, and I’ve always felt like a jerk.
I’ve now learned to engage a person at the booth before taking their stuff. You get into some really cool conversations. After you feel like you’re done, always say “oh, that’s a cool cow stress ball, can I have it?” They will always say yes if you have a good conversation.
If you have a couple years left in your college career, go to student competitions and study how you can enter next year. It’s a fun experience and starting something like this pays a huge amount of dividends in the future.
Go to IFTSA’s lounge
If you want to connect with other students from across the world, IFTSA also hosts a really cool lounge in the conference room areas that I sneak into a couple of times.
If you don’t know anyone, go with your classmates so you can socialize better. You know, like you’d do in college bars.
As a Professional
Like a student, a new professional can also get overwhelmed. Here are some tips to help you focus.
I hope you have your business card! If you don’t, then it will be your responsibility to contact them. However, most booths do have the technology to scan your info on your name badge.
Have a goal in mind
Aimlessly wandering the booths is nice, but it can also waste your time. You’re going on company dime for a reason!
I always have a goal when it comes to walking the expo floors as it helps me filter the overwhelming noise on the expo floor.
For example, I need to look for powdered palm oil and exotic ingredients for this year’s IFT17. In most cases, I will skip the natural colors and cured meat booths unless they have really good samples.
Find businesses that benefit your company
The most straightforward way to make connections is to find booths that will benefit your company. This is because you now have a jumping-off point to network.
“I like your hydrocolloid, can you tell me the application of this ingredient?”
After that, exchange business cards. The sales rep should contact you, but of course, you have all rights to contact first.
Or you can be like me and if there’s a booth with really good food samples, eat there a lot until someone comes up and talks to you.
Go to mixers and parties
It’s like you never left college…
Most flavor houses spend a lot of money to host networking parties. FONA, Bell and Gold Coast do off the top of my head. These are great opportunities to let loose and network if that’s your style. Ideally, you need an invitation. But if you’re a smooth talker, bring up the event when you talk at their booth, and they’ll let you in.
I have a mixer I’m hosting if you’re interested. Our IFT section started it last year and it worked pretty well. We now have over 40 guests attending ours and the event hasn’t even started.
If you are a young professional, my friend Erin Evers is advocating her event just for young professionals. (Monday, June 26th, 6-7:30pm Murano 3201-3202)
You can find mixers and receptions everywhere and there even might be too many to choose from. I don’t have great advice for this. However, if I were to choose, the first priority is to choose mixers that will benefit your company. They are the ones paying for you after all.
Once you know enough people in the industry (and it’s not hard to do this at IFT), you can choose your own networking path.
Download and post on the IFT17 app
I liked the IFT16 app in Chicago and it’s a good tool in general. It tells you the courses coming up, flashes notifications, and you can post what you enjoyed about the app. I post once in a while. Maybe you can find me?
So that’s my unorthodox list of tips and tricks. I’ve helped students and professionals network and walk the floor at IFT last year and I am happy to do so again. Just message me on linkedin or email me at email@example.com. I will make it a priority to make your time at IFT17 a good one.
See you there!