Industry conferences

Mar 23, 1998

Most A/E/P and environmental firms send their people to conferences. Whether it’s the annual event of a “peer” organization such as the AIA, ACEC, or NSPE, or a “client” organization such as the Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA), International Association of Corporate Real Estate Executives (NACORE), or the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), the bottom line is the same. We could all get a lot more out of these things with a little planning. And it’s really not that hard. Yet I find that most firms don’t think about this, don’t talk about it, and don’t really do much to ensure it’s worth the money they spend to send people to these affairs. We are occasionally asked about conferences. Here are my responses to some common conference-related questions: How many should we send and who goes? I would say that most of the time, no more than two or three people from your firm ought to be at any one event. Last year, I found myself at a conference with six or seven of our people, and only 100 people were there in total! That was too many from our company! As far as who ought to go, you should send those who best represent the firm. This means professional-looking, articulate people who understand all that your firm does and who are capable of identifying opportunities to sell work or form teaming relationships. Obviously, if it’s a conference related to hotel design, the top hotel design people should be there, too. But what I would not do is just send partners if they are the types who never get involved in discussions, socialize, or come back with anything they learned. Should we only go if it’s a good program? No. In fact, the quality of the program is fairly far down on my list of criteria to determine whether or not we will send someone to a conference. Far more important to me is who is attending this event. If it attracts folks who can buy or influence the decision to buy our services, then we ought to be there. If not, it could be the best program in the world and I probably wouldn’t want to invest our limited professional development budget in it. Let me tell you, the presenters at a lot of A/E/P and environmental industry conferences are chosen simply because the professional society can get those people to do it for free. It has very little to do with who is most qualified! What do you do when you’re there? Two words: s-p-r-e-a-d o-u-t. You have to mingle. I read our folks the riot act when I see them sitting at one table together. The point of these events is to meet people, identify opportunities, and form relationships that can do something for us later on. That means you have to go out at night with the other people there, sit with them at lunch, and be aggressive in seeking out contact. Besides, your people can eat lunch together any time!! How to get the most out of this activity? Decide a year in advance who will go where after putting together a list of every conference you think you ought to have someone at. Then decide who will go to what session at each conference, in advance of the show, so you have good exposure to the entire event. Require attendees to write up their impressions of the event and what they learned. And repeat the sessions that were worth repeating internally through a brown bag lunch program. Also, get the tapes if they are available (and most of the time, they are). Finally, don’t forget to get a card from everyone you meet. And request the complete conference attendee list, so you can add all of these people to your marketing database for future bombardment through your direct mail/business development program. Let’s make sure that conference attendance is still viewed as a work activity and not just a reward for those who want a company-provided vacation away from home. There’s just no excuse for not doing so! Originally published March 23, 1998

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