Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Networking Catalyst". He regularly speaks at industry conventions and trade shows where he inspires the audience (and vendors) to maximize their participation at the event. One of the top reasons people attend business conferences is for the "Networking Opportunities", and yet once there they fail to create connections that will have any meaningful impact on their career. Thom sets the tone for the culture of the conference which becomes the foundation for a more meaningful set of interactions.
Maximize Your Conference (Part 5)
Visit The Trade Show and Meet The Vendors
by Thom Singer
Many convention attendees mistakenly think the trade show floor is hell and the vendors are the devil in disguise. They actively avoid walking around the booths, and if they do enter the area where the vendors display their wares, they never make eye contact with anyone. They mistakenly think the sponsoring companies are the enemy.
Other conference participants fall into a different camp. They visit the trade show, but do so with the intention of filling up a bag with as many toys, notepads, pens and other logoed items with no interest in actually having a conversation with the people in the booths. Additionally they want to enter every drawing for a free iPad, but treat the vendors like second class citizens in the hierarchy of the convention culture. These "takers" run the gauntlet of the trade show with the sole purpose of winning the "free stuff" game.
In both cases people are missing powerful opportunities to maximize their conference experience. Below are five reasons why embracing the trade show and honoring the people who are working in the booths will make the conference better for everyone, now and in the future:
1. The best conventions rely heavily on the trade show vendors to meet the necessary financial successful and keep the registration costs reasonable. If there were no trade show booths, there would be no convention (or it would be a lot less spectacular!). The vendors participate to support the industry, but also to make connections with potential clients, referral sources and other industry VIPs (these are similar to the reasons you attended).
Sure, their goals are to discover new leads. Sales makes the business world run. Your company needs more prospective customers, too.... thus do not look down on other companies for the same thing.
If the vendors are ignored or treated poorly by participants they will not return the following year. Many great conferences have shrunk or died-off because the sponsors / vendors did not find the value in being involved. If enjoy participating in your industry conferences, make it a point to thank the sponsors for their role in making it a success (if they email you later to discover if you are interested in their product do not freak out. Emails from potential vendors are not as bad as people pretend. Simply say "no thanks" and unsubscribe).
2. The vendors often host great networking events. Smart vendors go far beyond just having a booth. Many will organize hospitality suites, off-site parties, golf outings, additional educational events, and other gatherings that bring together key people at the conference. While most of their party guests are invited in advance, the best vendors are always adding people to their VIP lists. When you run away from the chance to meet sponsors and vendors, you can also be missing the chance to meet the industry leaders who will be at their private events.
3. Prejudging a whole class of people as less important to meet at the convention is very short sighted. Great vendors and their top sales professionals are always well known and respected by key people throughout your industry. Establishing strong friendships with vendors is paramount to orchestrating introductions to anyone you might want to meet. People are always happy to help those they already know, like and trust. Take advantage of being at the conference to establish or strengthen your relationships with vendors.
Vendors are often the best connectors. They know the value in making introductions to those in the industry who can do big deals together, as being a connector keeps them relevant beyond just selling their product or service.
4. Walking the trade show floor allows you to network with other conference attendees. When you are roaming up and down the rows of booths you will inevitably run into your peers - both those you already know, and those you have not yet met. The casual pace of walking the trade show allows for impromptu conversations.
Additionally, when you commit to touring the booths with another person, you get to spend time together. We are experiential beings, and sharing time with another person brings you closer together and solidifies the relationship. Ask someone to join you when you wander amongst the booths and you may make a friend at the same time.
5. Visiting the trade show could expose you to new ideas, directly and indirectly. When you walk around an industry show seeking inspiration you will often leave with new information, ideas, and other tools that will help you succeed in the future. Sometimes you will find a product or service that you should purchase immediately. Other times you will see a competitor doing something you had never considered in the past. Or maybe you will observe something unrelated to your company that will spark an idea that can be manipulated to transform the way you do business.
If nothing else, pay attention to how people set up their booths, what logoed giveaways they use, and the techniques they implement to garner attention from the attendees, as your own company can most likely do a better job when you exhibit.
Those who discredit the trade show portion of a conference or simply avoid the booths and vendors are missing out on a powerful part maximizing their conference attendance.
Have A Great Day.