MRO Magazine

12 convention secrets

You already know why your upcoming convention is important: it's a chance to view new products, discuss emerging trends, and visit with people who make a difference in the industry. All true. But if you look and listen very carefully at this...


Operations

April 1, 2011
By By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

Industries

You already know why your upcoming convention is important: it’s a chance to view new products, discuss emerging trends, and visit with people who make a difference in the industry. All true. But if you look and listen very carefully at this important event, you can glean benefits you probably haven’t thought about.

Your convention offers you a rich variety of secret benefits. Here are a dozen of them:

Communication secrets. Sure, you’ll meet and greet people at the convention. But here’s a chance to carefully observe how people you know and admire communicate with each other. Things to watch for: How your peers meet people they don’t know; how they probe for information; how they affirm others, and prepare for upcoming deals. Just imagine what you can learn from these folks.

Technology secrets. There’s a possibility that software vendors will be displaying their systems at the event. If you’ve always wondered how new information systems might help you, bring along some sample data and ask one or two vendors to allow you to input your information and give their software a test drive. Even if you don’t end up buying, you’ll end up with new insights about information system capabilities – and ideas to make your existing software more productive.

Vendor secrets. So you think that vendors are experts only in what they sell? Think again. Vendors who sell to your industry try to learn everything they can about it. They get to know your peers, perhaps much better than you. And they get to see first-hand how your peers practice their craft and solve problems. So make it a point to hang around with one or two vendor reps. Ask whatever industry-related questions you’re curious about – sales trends in another part of the country, hot marketing ideas, product launch costs, whatever – and you might discover that your newfound friends are full of insights.

Advertising secrets. Did you ever wish you could see a collection of world-class advertising and marketing materials? Guess what? This may be exactly what you encounter at your convention – if you look for it. Check the best booths. Browse the literature swaps. Pick up the brochures you see scattered around the convention hall. Look at the signage and the posters. Firms that advertise at conventions and trade shows try to put the industry’s best foot forward. Watch that foot, and follow it around.

Organizational secrets. Staying organized in this frantic day and age keeps you ahead of the pack. True, you may get away from your usual organizational routine while you’re at the convention. But take this opportunity to watch how conventioneers – the committee, the vendors, even your friends in the industry – organize themselves. Do they carry schedules? Use electronic organizers? Make notes for their secretaries or assistants? Do they seem to have specific goals when they talk with seminar participants or favourite vendors? Watch closely and you can pick up tips that can save and make time for you in the future.

Logistics secrets. Once you learn new organizing secrets, try to figure out how your convention is staged. What kind of team effort was required to put it together? How are seminars planned, outlined and presented? How does your association market to vendors and participants? What happens when someone walks onto the convention floor for the first time? How do organizers keep people feeling safe and secure? Connect the answers to these questions to your own business, and you might figure out how to make things at home more enticing to your customers.

Worry secrets. What wakes you up with worry and fear at 3:30 a.m.? Maybe it’s rising wholesale costs. Or inadequate employee training. Or a weak balance sheet. Whatever your 3:30 a.m. worries happen to be, seek out someone at your convention who’s been through your problem and has addressed it with creativity and vigour. Don’t know who? Find out. Ask a convention organizer or seminar leader. Or bring your problem up with friends at the first luncheon you attend. Don’t go home without hearing how at least one peer cancelled those pesky 3:30 a.m. wakeups.

Travel secrets. Unless your convention happens to be close to home, you’re going to be visiting a new – and possibly strange – destination. So you have a learning experience. What can you learn about the most efficient travel methods? Fitness tips while on the road? Great food and lodging? Unique gifts you can bring home to family and friends? Nearby attractions that can call you back in the years ahead?

Hospitality secrets. ‘Hospitality’ – that constellation of customer care skills – is more important than ever in the 21st century. You can learn secrets from some of the masters at your convention. Watch how the organizers arrange for your comfort. Listen and learn from conference chairs as they direct you to and from events. Pick up tidbits from the hotel and floor staff, hosts and wait staff. Just a single idea or two – maybe a heartwarming hospitality habit, an example of a creative directional sign, or a chance comment in the hotel lobby – can add spark to your own relationship efforts back home.

Secret war stories. Okay, so you’re going to attend four seminars. Yes, you’ll pick up a new skill or two here, and you’ll learn about industry trends. But the best education may well be the war stories – replete with tales of victory and defeat – at lunch or dinner, or at the bar. Listen to your colleagues explain how they corralled an important, but lost, customer. Or picked their way through a regulatory minefield. Or lost critical market share because of a bad strategic decision. This is the school of hard knocks. Your convention helps you work toward your diploma.

Secrets from home. Do you wonder how the folks back at the office or shop get along without you? Convention time is when you finally learn the answer to this question. If you find yourself on the telephone, using e-mail, or checking your Blackberry every half-hour, you have a problem; when you return, it’s time to parcel out more responsibility or simplify tasks through new work processes. If your people get along well without you, you’ve learned a great lesson as well: your people are quite capable and, left to their own devices, they might do great things in the future. Let them.

People secrets. Maybe you know a lot of the folks in your industry. But chances are you’ll have the opportunity to meet people who are new to your line of work. When you meet them, make the most of the opportunity. They entered your business for a specific reason: Why? What are their goals, personal and financial? Did they have any unique coaching or preparation along the way? And, entering the field with new and unbiased eyes, what success secrets have they learned? Listen carefully. You might pick up some nuggets of wisdom. At the very least, you’ll catch the enthusiasm of these newcomers and carry it home with you. MRO

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.