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The secret sharer

Management | October 1, 2014 | By:

There are some not-so-obvious benefits
to attending industry events.

You already know why your upcoming convention and trade show is important: it’s a chance to discover new products and new suppliers, discuss emerging industry trends and best practices, and learn from the people who make up your industry, as they learn from you.

New products, new practices, new possibilities, a glass of wine with the editors—they’re all out there. But there are some less obvious, if not actually hidden, benefits that come from attending your industry events with several strategies in mind.

During the show …

Communication secrets. You’ll meet and greet a wide variety of people at the show. But this is a rare chance to carefully observe how people you know and admire communicate with each other. What they emphasize; how they introduce themselves to people they don’t know; how they ask for information; how they recognize peers and competitors; how they lay the groundwork for upcoming deals.

Technology secrets. There’s a strong likelihood that different software vendors will be displaying their systems at the show. If you’ve been wondering about how new information systems might help your business, bring along some sample data and ask vendors to allow you to input your data and give their software a test drive. Even if you don’t end up buying, you’ll gather new insights about information system capabilities and how to make your existing software more productive.

Vendor secrets. Exhibitors at the show are experts in what they sell—and while selling it, they’re also trying to learn everything they can about your industry. If they’re getting to know what’s important to your peers, shouldn’t they know what’s important to you also? Vendors have inside information on how your peers run their businesses and solve ongoing problems. Make it a point to spend some time with their representatives at the show, and ask about those operational topics: sales trends in another part of the country, hot marketing ideas, product launch costs and capital opportunities or tax benefits. They may offer unexpected insights.

Advertising secrets. Need some fresh ideas for your marketing and publicity materials? As you visit exhibitor booths and pick up product literature, make notes about any interesting techniques and offers they’re using, print and electronic. Check out the best booths and find out why they’re pulling in so many visitors. Look at the signage and posters used in the exhibit halls and seminar rooms. Companies that advertise at conventions and trade shows put a lot of money and time into creating these materials. The fact that your products and audience are different doesn’t mean that the techniques won’t work for you.

Organizational secrets. Staying organized in an increasingly frenetic and overly messaged business world keeps you ahead of the pack. It’s true that you can’t follow your usual organizational routine while you’re at the show, unless you’re spending way too much time on daily tasks and not enough time absorbing what’s around you. But watch how others at the show—staff, attendees, visitors, speakers—organize themselves.Printed schedules? Electronic organizers? Notebooks to keep random ideas to send to assistants or co-workers back in the office? Do people seem to have specific goals in mind when talking with seminar participants or speakers? How are they collecting and using this information?

Logistics secrets. Along those same lines, try to figure out how your convention itself is organized. What are the priorities? How are seminars planned, outlined and presented? How does your trade association market itself to exhibitors and participants? What happens when someone walks onto the show floor for the first time? How do organizers keep traffic flowing but meet visitor needs quickly? Your home office and showroom could profit from some updates in presentation.

And after the show …

Wake-up call secrets. Whatever business worries wake you in the middle of the night—rising wholesale costs, labor shortages, material shortages or a weak balance sheet—you’re probably not the only one getting up for cocoa at 3:00 a.m. Try to find someone at the show who’s been through your problem and addressed it firmly and creatively. Ask a convention organizer or seminar leader, or discuss it with friends at the lunch table. Trade shows are designed for just these kinds of conversations.

Travel secrets. Unless your convention happens to be close to home, you’re going to be visiting a new—and possibly strange—destination. Once you’re past the airports, make it a learning experience. Is flying the most efficient method of travel? If you’re driving, what are the best ways to stay comfortable and fit? Besides the show itself, what’s important to you? Great food and lodging? Unique gifts for family and friends? Notable nearby attractions? Or perhaps the opportunity to visit the shops of other show visitors for some hands-on training? Try to think beyond the convention center and hotel, for both personal and professional benefits.

Hospitality secrets. Hospitality—a constellation of customer care skills—is more important than ever in a world of virtual experience. Watch how show organizers arrange events for your comfort. Listen to organization leaders and speakers as they suggest activities and direct you to and from events. Even from the hotel and floor staff, hosts and wait staff, maybe there’s a particularly heartwarming or humorous greeting, or an example of a creative directional sign, or a chance comment in the hotel lobby that grabs your attention. Creative customer service still works.

Secret war stories. So you plan to attend four seminars, learn about industry trends and pick up a new skill or two at a product demonstration. Bring it all to working life with the real war stories—tales of victory and defeat—at lunch or dinner or a cocktail meeting. Listen to colleagues or competitors explain how they regained an important customer, picked their way through a regulatory minefield or lost critical market share because of a bad strategic decision. This is the information that doesn’t make it into the brochures or onto the websites.

Secrets from home. Ever wonder how the folks back at the office get along without you? If you find yourself on the phone or e-mail every half-hour while you’re at the show, you may have a problem; it’s time to delegate more responsibility or develop new work processes. If your employees get along fine without you, you’ve learned another great lesson: you’ve hired very capable people who are probably a great resource for new ideas also. Pay attention, and give them a chance to develop new ways of doing things.

People secrets. You may know a lot of the key people in your industry, but you’ll have the opportunity to meet many people new to you and your business when at a trade show, especially out of town. Make the most of the opportunity. These people became part of your industry for a reason. What was it? What are their goals, personal, professional and financial? Did they have any unique coaching or preparation along the way? And, if they’re new to your field and seeing it with unbiased eyes, what secrets have they learned? Another viewpoint is always valuable, and often uniquely energizing.

It could be the most important hidden benefit of attending your industry trade shows and events: a new respect for what you’re already doing, and a fresh perspective for what you’d like to do in the future.

Galynn Nordstrom is senior editor of Specialty Fabrics Review, and a dedicated wino.

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