By John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.
Whether this is your first industry convention or you are a seasoned pro, I am a firm believer that establishing a well-thought out plan in advance of attending an industry convention is key for maximizing results. Many conventions can be daunting with thousands of attendees and depending on your role within your organization, you may be pulled in numerous directions throughout the show. Establishing a plan-of-attack is the only way to ensure that you are able to achieve the desired results of attending. Let’s face it – attending an industry convention is not cheap when you account for all the fees – attendance, travel, meals, etc. – so it is prudent on your behalf to maximize your efforts.
I have attended numerous industry conventions and below have been the most effective key steps for me to follow prior to heading to the show:
Strategy: Whether you are a vendor, distributor or retailer, mapping your overall strategy in advance of the show is critical. Ask yourself “what would make for a successful show?” Identify five objectives for success, and then create a schedule that enables you to tactically fulfill the activities that allow you to achieve your desired objectives. This is not a time to “wing it”.
Schedule: Start with the floor plan to get a “lay of the land” and develop a list of whom you would like to meet and when – based on where they are located on the floor. Many industry conventions are vast – you cannot afford to backtrack the floor — even if the event is spread over multiple days. Study the floor plan and “war-game” a schedule, asking yourself, “if I do all this, is the show a success?” In addition, create a list of people you need to meet or key booths to visit for decisions you need to make for your company.
Compartmentalize: Break up your schedule into blocks: a) meeting time blocks; b) floor time blocks; c) educational seminar attendance; and d) yes, social activities for networking. Once you establish your key time blocks, create and identify a list of “must-haves” for a successful event. These “must-haves” can be both people and meetings – then step back from your list and aim for expanding the reach with targets beyond your comfort zone.
Educate: Everyone can learn new items once in a while, so target a few of the educational seminars as part of your schedule. Target those that provide information that help you grow, not rehash what you are already an expert on. At a minimum, introduce yourself to the speaker of the seminar after they present to establish an expert contact for follow-up questions.
Break Your Comfort Zone: While a convention is marvelous to see many people that you already know in the industry; it provides an equally significant opportunity to expand your networking base with new contacts. My rule of thumb was always a 1:1 ratio – for every contact I meet that I had known previously, I tried to meet at least one contact that I have never known. At the end of the show, my goal was to come back with a fistful of new business cards and contacts. Break your comfort zone and expand your network!
Prepare Your Follow-Up: Armed with my new business as well as existing contacts, plan in advance how you will follow-up. In my experience, how someone follows up with me is equally important as what was discussed at the meeting. The art of follow-up is lost on many people and you have a real opportunity to “knock the ball out of the park” with a contact, provided your follow-up with them is a) timely; b) pertinent to their specific needs; and c) outlines the next steps to a successful relationship. Don’t drop the ball here.
Enjoy The Event: All work and no play, well, can be quite boring. Allow yourself to participate in some of the social events that accompany the industry convention. Not only do they allow you to relax and blow off some steam, but also these events provide a more informal way to networking with industry contacts. So, take a break and play some golf or attend a few networking parties.
Many industry events are some of the largest conventions in the country and if left unplanned, can become a sea of missed opportunities. Spending time planning — in advance of the show — can make achieving your objectives attainable and save you a tremendous amount of time and effort throughout the year. Your annual industry convention is the one show that presents you with the opportunity to carry out multiple initiatives in one centralized geographic location. How you manage that opportunity is entirely up to you.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.