Kaleidoscope: A Whirlwind of 24 Must-Do Convention Activities

Richard G. Ensman

March 2005

You’ll want to take advantage of everything your upcoming convention offers you: seminars, new product information, a great keynote address, perhaps the chance to visit a new and exciting place.

But your convention offers you something else: a whirlwind of behind-the-scenes sights and sounds that can lead you to new business ideas and contacts, valuable information and professional adventures. What to look for? Here’s a list of 24 must-do activities you can use as a starting point:

ASK one important question of the keynote speaker or a noteworthy seminar leader. Think for a moment: What one quandary has troubled you over the last year? What concern wakes you up at 3 a.m.?

Build your "focus question” around the answer. It may bring you a new perspective on your business.

COLLECT souvenirs of the place you’re visiting—a few memorable photographs or postcards, or colorful brochures of sites you’ve seen. Place them in a simple album or scrapbook that can remind you of the experience you’ve had.

COMPOSE your to-do list. This is your post-convention followup list. As you hear good ideas or obtain business leads, immediately add them to your list. Each evening, place the items on your expanding list in priority order—and plan to get to the top priorities as soon as you return home.

CONVENEour own mini-convention. Invite a few colleagues to join you for an informal roundtable discussion or bull session about a particularly thorny problem that you all face. And who knows? By convening your own mini-convention, you might just be laying the groundwork for starting another AWCI Business Forum.

DINE at a restaurant reflecting the culinary traditions of the region. Food is one of the best identifiers of an area’s history and cultural identity. When you enjoy a meal at a truly local eating place, you may well become immersed in its heritage.

ENJOY the stories you hear. They include formal case studies, "war stories” recounted at lunch, how-I-did-it-manuals distributed at roundtables. Storytelling may unlock a secret or two of success.

EXPLORE a topic or field unfamiliar to you. If, for instance, you know little about information technology in your field, plan to attend a computer seminar. If you think you know everything there is to know about drywall, stop in at a steel-framing education session. If you’re not well versed in product development, stop by for a few short, but intensive, chats with exhibitors.

FILE e-mail and Web site addresses of people you meet. When you return, place these addresses in your information manager. Be sure to check out the Web sites of companies that interest you.

GAZE at the banners and flags that adorn booths in the exhibit hall. They speak volumes about the places these vendors occupy in your industry—and they often spark advertising ideas as well.

HELP a colleague. This might be nothing more than a few practical suggestions about marketing offered over drinks. Or it might be an offer to share some worthwhile office procedures you developed back home. Listen to the needs of others, and be willing to respond generously if you can. You’ll gain satisfaction from the encounter, and you might even learn something new yourself.

HUNT for new products you’ve heard about. You can conduct these simple "scavenger hunts” by wandering among exhibitors or talking with peers.

IDENTIFY one great learning experience you can bring back to your colleagues or employees. It might be a wonderful idea you heard in a seminar, a list of sales suggestions you obtained during a roundtable, or a new way to use your computer software. Resolve to share your great idea as soon as you return.

KICK the tires. Whenever you visit an exhibit booth that intrigues you, sample what’s being offered in any way you can. If you can’t "test drive” the product at the convention, ask if trial runs are available to you when you return home.

LAUGH heartily at least once a day. As you hear the humorous exploits of your colleagues and the entertaining stories of presenters, remember that your business isn’t deadly serious all the time.

LISTEN for the buzz. You learn a lot during seminars and keynote presentations. But you often learn more by listening to the chatter that occurs after those sessions are over. So hang out for a few moments when the formal gatherings conclude.

MAKE at least one new friend during the convention. Use coffee breaks and lunch hours to meet people who share common bonds with you, such as colleagues in similar sized organizations in other geographical areas or colleagues who have backgrounds that intrigue you.

MEET the young and the old. Aim to meet at least one young peer and one senior peer each day. What to look for: New ideas. Enthusiasm. Raw energy. Wisdom. Experience. A tip: Your colleagues who have been around for many years may exhibit the same enthusiasm and exuberance as your younger colleagues. And don’t overlook the possibility that very young colleagues might possess a store of hidden wisdom!

NOTICE the inflection in speakers’ and exhibitors’ voices. When their comments are filled with enthusiasm and excitement, you may be hearing news of profitable new products or profit-building strategies.

PRACTICE your 30-second "elevator speech.” This is the capsule introduction you give whenever you want to provide an overview of your background and business. Make it a point to give this speech at least once a day to someone you don’t know. This simple act of networking can pay off later on.

READ the promotional literature you receive throughout the convention. You might learn about a new product or service that can bring you more revenue. But at the very least, you can learn how others are marketing their products—and glean ideas you can use to market your own.

RECORD information and ideas that might have practical value to you at a later date. Your record keeping can include chance comments from exhibitors, great customer relationship techniques you heard in a seminar, impressions of highly successful peers, and more.

SNOOP legally. Listen to the lunchtime chatter, exhibit hall buzz and stairwell murmurings—especially when it’s bright and animated. If you’re perceptive (and a bit lucky), you may pick up a few of the secrets your peers used to finish that atrium ceiling or creatively cut operating costs.

VISIT the hidden corners of your convention. These include off-the-beaten-track exhibits, special member assemblies, and informal breakout sessions organized by other members. You might find nuggets of valuable information here.

WATCH the techniques of presenters and exhibitors. You might pick up some sales and persuasion tips as a result—tips you can use to boost your own success once you arrive home.

About the Author
Richard G. Ensman is a free-lancer based in Rochester, N.Y.