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Heads Up!

Robert Nowell, Professional photographer, photography professor and VP at Sprout Studio About Robert

I’m hoping most of you have read Bryan’s article on why he’s not speaking this year at WPPI. If not stop for a minute and go give it a read right here.

I volunteered to cover the class for Bryan since he wouldn't be able to, and he & WPPI thought that was a great solution.
I’m no stranger to teaching, I’ve been doing that for years now. In fact my mettle is tested every week as I deliver a three hour lecture on Mondays to second year college students, with an hour break and then deliver another three hour lecture (a different topic) to the same class. That comes with certain challenges. Keeping around 30 students engaged for six hours in a lecture style environment is no cake walk.

That said, teaching the business of photography on that kind of schedule keeps me sharp and on my game. I'm really looking forward to my inaugural class at WPPI in just two weeks, if you're going to be there let's connect!

What I really wanted to deliver in this article is a challenge of sorts.

I want to start a movement called “Heads Up!”

Let me explain…. Last year at WPPI I was astonished to find that so many people who had come from all over the world had something in common. Photography? Well, yes, but something else I couldn’t help noticing wherever I went.

I saw it in the mornings standing in line at Starbucks.

I saw it in the Platform classes when people came in to get their seats.

I saw it in the corridors of the main hall as people scurried to classes or the tradeshow.

I saw it at the tradeshow. I even saw it when people were stopping to grab lunch.

Can you guess what so many of these attendees had in common?

They were glued to their cellphones.

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I know I’m not the first to point this out. I hope if I add my voice to this message you’ll give this idea some serious thought.

I think it was my good buddy Skip Cohen who said “make it a point to never have a meal alone when you're at a conference like this”. That’s great advice! However, if you connect with someone and sit down to eat together and you both whip out your smart phones, you might as well have gone back to your own room to eat alone.

Obviously it makes sense to have your phone with you. I like to connect with my wife every morning when I get up and again at around dinner time. I also like being able to text any friends I know that are also attending the conference. We can set up coffee meet ups, exchange tips on good finds at the trade show, and just keep in touch.

What I don’t want to be doing when I’m at WPPI is be worrying about my business, or checking emails throughout the day when I should be focusing on what I came to WPPI for in the first place.

Here are five ways you can enjoy the conference and get the most out of it:

  1. Let clients know you are going to be away for some continuing education in advance of leaving. Talk about the importance of attending conferences like WPPI on your blog. Set up autoresponders for your email that let people know you are away from your business for a week and why, and that you’ll be back in touch when you return. If you are one of those people that get sweaty palms and heart palpitations from the thought of not responding to a contact within 24 hours, then at least save looking at emails until you return to your hotel room at the end of the day. Not during lunch! No! That’s when you should be networking and meeting other photographers from across the country and making new contacts and possibly friends.

  2. Leave a phone message on your business line with the same message. Explain that your are away at a  conference and will get back to all missed calls within the week. Maybe tell them if it’s urgent to send you an email and you’ll be checking emails at the end of every day.

  3. Before going away, be sure to get all your tasks completed so you have nothing on your mind that’s been left undone. It’s hard to enjoy a week away from work if you're always thinking about what you didn’t get done. Guilt is a hard taskmaster.

  4. Consider using a social media scheduling tool like Edgar so your online posts don’t miss a beat while your sucking up as much knowledge and relationship-building time as you can.

  5. Be purposeful in meeting new people. Even if you’re the shy gal in the room, be bold just this once. Heck it’s Vegas – no one knows you, so stick out your hand and smile. Strike up a conversation. If you have no idea what to say, try “where are you from?”, “what kind of photography do you do?”, “what gear do you use?” and watch the conversation take off.

Don’t be afraid to approach the industry icons. They’re just people like you and likely are flattered that you care enough to say hi. Maybe pullout the phone just this once and grab a selfie with them.

Turning off notifications on my phone eliminates that distraction so I can focus on the people around me and benefit from being in the moment. I don’t need to be constantly checking who liked my last Instagram post. I don’t feel the need to check emails, and I can take a mini vacation from Facebook.

Will you join me? Will you join the movement? Why not post now – before the convention – and use the hashtag #WPPIheadsup!.

Let’s see how many agree that we are not slaves to our phones. We are in control, and will not reach addictively for our phones as though they controlled our very breathing.

Let’s look up, make eye contact, engage more, smile. HeadsUp!

Need more motivation? Have a look at this video, I think it sums up how addicted we've all become to our cellphones.

#Education #Networking #Relationships


  • This makes a great point. People are missing out on life, decreasing traffic safety, and causing other problems by keeping their heads buried in their phones.
  • I agree with your sentiments. I usually get annoyed why people need to use their phone during meeting/conferences. I always make it a habit to only check my phone when I'm done with what I actually came for.

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