There are seemingly countless events taking place in the technology and AV spaces these days. Personally, I average about seven events a year that have something to do with tech, music, or a combination thereof. With all of these events occurring all over the country, or even internationally, it’s close to impossible for people to attend them all if they aren’t making a certain percentage of their income from being in the media, or attending these shows as a subject matter expert or speaker.
With limited constraints on how much time most employees can spend out of the office or off of a project, budgeting time when at events becomes absolutely vital. To some this might mean that they give only an hour to each rep firm to guide them around a hall and show them all the different manufacturers and the new wares they are debuting at a show. To others this could mean that they are setting themselves up to visit their key manufacturing partners for longer periods of time so they come away with the most amount of information about their most commonly used products while still making some time to see what newer products might exist or manufacturing relationships they can establish. Still others might set aside a few hours a day for classes to keep up their industry understanding or earn a few certification renewal units. I’ve even heard of some individuals that won’t make a single appointment so they can determine their own time and fill it with whatever they want to see and have no constraints on their time allowing them to spend their time with the things that stand out most to them.
I’m none of these people. New gear that could revolutionize the way audiovisual system design is done comes along, seemingly, every single year if marketing materials are to be believed. The equipment will trickle down after the show from the sales managers or rep firms. There will be mailers, office visits, and even demo units if there’s an application available. The thing about going to trade shows is that this is a rare occurrence when you’re going to have the opportunity to have conversations with decision makers and influencers that you might not see again until the following year. The gear, to me, is a secondary reason to attend the shows. If you are able to spend time with the people and build a relationship, when the time comes for you to seek out information on new gear you already have a line of communication that can provide the resources to answer your questions.
You hear it time and time again that careers are built on the relationships that you develop. These events pull together brilliant minds interested in the same things that you spend all of your time working on or thinking about. Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that?
With up to 65,000, or more, attendees meandering the halls of these convention centers, each with their own agenda, how do you find a way to get the time and attention of those few people with whom you wish to connect? Below are a few suggestions that might help in your next networking effort to meet the influencers that you follow on social media, blogs, or other publications.
- Ask if they have time to meet up. LinkedIn, Twitter, even Facebook exist to help you connect, so do it. As a word of caution, if you do this any later than one month prior to the event – assuming it’s a large event – expect to get either a ‘no’ or no response at all. Industry leaders and influencers are busy people and they are likely scheduling their own appointments, classes, or other activities. Don’t let that discourage you though. Perhaps they are teaching or speaking at the show. Most instructors or speakers will budget time after their event to meet with attendees; go be one of those attendees.
- Be aware of what’s around you during the show. If you didn’t manage to schedule time with them beforehand, or have other events that conflict with your ability to attend their presentations, all is not lost. These conventions are large affairs, but sometimes they’re smaller than you think; you might just run into them as they’re wandering around. Be conscientious, though, don’t think that they’ll be able to take thirty minutes to sit down and talk to you, but this is the perfect chance to get an introduction and…
- Follow up later. With all that’s going on at trade shows sometimes all you’ll get is a few minutes to say hello and make a first impression. If you want to continue any conversation after the event then you must follow up. There is a lot more time outside of the event than there is in it. This means that there’s a much greater chance for you to start a conversation or ask any questions you wanted to discuss after the fact and have you will have a better chance at a response.
People are at the heart of any industry. If you don’t have the individuals that make an industry run, you don’t have an industry or its trade shows. Don’t let nerves of walking up to a stranger and starting a conversation stop you from meeting someone that could turn into a good friend, a mentor, or even a friendly conversational or business rival. Just be nice, be respectful, and be open to the opportunities that present themselves to you. That attitude has led to some amazing conversations with wonderful people that I otherwise might not have been in position to experience. I know that when I walked up to say hello to an industry leader I admire at InfoComm Connections the resulting conversation was more than I hoped for or would have expected. Now, I’m inspired to find a resolution to a query that could change the AV industry. You never know what you’ll luck into when you reach out to just say hello and ask about what they think the future of the industry holds.