May 1, 1998

9 Min Read
Convention-al Wisdom

 Convention-al Wisdom
May 1998 -- R&D Management

By: Pam Erickson Otto
Contributing Editor

  You can rattle off starch specifications like nobody's business. Your knowledge of high-intensity sweeteners is unsurpassed. And you fearlessly face fat-free formulations. But when confronted with five days of seminars, symposiums and endless aisles of trade exhibits, your knees turn into a dreaded compound: that translucent mass of pectin, fruit acids and sugar the lay folk call "jelly."  Industry trade shows can provide virtually endless quantities of valuable information, as well as myriad opportunities to interact with fellow food technologists. But the prospect of having to absorb all that stimulation in such a short period of time can be overwhelming. Such events, and there are many, call for a well-thought-out plan of attack - a formula for trade-show success.  Try incorporating the following tips into your next round of convention planning:

  Pre-register and make travel arrangements early. Information packets containing registration materials generally are mailed by show organizers well in advance of the actual event. Instead of relegating these parcels to an overflowing in-box, attend to them soon after they arrive.
  First, send in the registration form. Many shows offer discounts to attendees who pre-register; doing so also lets you avoid the tangle of registration lines that ensues on opening day.
  Next, make airline and hotel reservations. Show organizers typically will arrange for group discounts for such items, although they're usually offered on a first-come, first-served basis, and space can be limited. Once again, it pays to make these arrangements early.
  If wining and dining is on your agenda, you also might want to make restaurant reservations at this time. Check dining guides for the host city to scope out your options; the Internet can prove valuable in this quest. Besides typing the city name and "restaurants" into your preferred search engines, you might want to check out www.dine.com; www.activediner.com; and www.foodmenu.com. These sites offer combinations of menus, reviews and price ranges for restaurants in several different cities. Sites that provide tourism-related information, in addition to restaurant guides, include www.city.net and www.metroscope.com.  Define your goals. With the show's broad issues of transportation and lodging resolved, it's time to work out the specific objectives you hope to accomplish. Is the aim of this trip to learn about new ingredients, processes or technologies? Are you hoping to hook up with old colleagues? Are you shopping for a new position with a new company?  Sorting out these issues ahead of time will help you stay focused throughout the show. Rather than coming home with a swimming head, you can instead come back with a brain brimming with new ideas.  Plan your show itinerary. Depending on your reasons for attending, make up a loose schedule for the show. Block out appropriate segments of time for the seminars you wish to attend, then plan meetings with colleagues and suppliers. Finally, call them to set up dates, places and times.  But remember that even the best-laid plans can go awry amid the clamor of an industrywide gathering. Consequently, it's best to avoid setting exact times for any meetings that are to take place on the show floor. Instead of saying "I'll meet you at Booth 3735 at 4 p.m.," state a range of time: "I'll meet you between 4 and 4:15." That way, if you're walking the floor that day and are mid-aisle at 3:59, you won't have to bypass the last few booths and backtrack later.  Use a packing list. As many show veterans can attest, there's nothing worse than arriving at your destination, then realizing some important accouterment has somehow remained back home. Make a list of those items apt to be forgotten: business cards (bring more than you think you'll ever need), tape recorder for show-floor memoranda, camera, cell phone, and laptop computer.  Make your trip home easier by stowing a small quantity of large shipping envelopes. Then, each day you're at the show, pack up those piles of literature and product samples you collect, and mail them back to your office. You'll thank yourself, and be the envy of fellow show-goers, when you make your homeward flight carrying only the bags you came with.  Finally, don't forget to pack a selection of drugstore items that can make grueling show days more bearable for yourself, and those around you. Examples include adhesive bandages and analgesics to treat blisters and stress; breath mints to counteract samples of strong-flavored ingredients; and antibacterial hand lotion, because handshaking and eating - two common activities at food shows - are notorious means of spreading germs. (For show-goers especially concerned about becoming ill, plan to supplement the use of such lotions with frequent hand-washing. Antibacterial lotions are virtually powerless against viruses.)  Maximize opportunities for learning. When attending seminars and workshops, bring a note pad and pen, then use them. Even if the lecturer provides handouts, it's best to augment his materials with your own notations. Besides helping you remain attentive, note-taking also aids comprehension.  At the end of a presentation, most speakers allow time for a question-and-answer session. At this time, review your notes and ask for clarification of any remarks you're unsure of.  The interval immediately following a seminar also can be beneficial. Don't hesitate to strike up a conversation with your fellow attendees about the material that was covered. Chances are, they'll be able to provide additional insight or, at minimum, appreciate your own thoughtful comments. Such conversations not only help you improve your understanding of the concepts presented, but also can be an important means of making new industry contacts.  Don't get "floored." With your head chock-full of new ideas and scientific principles, the show floor, with its aisles upon aisles of supplier booths, may seem like territory too daunting to tackle. But by making use of the floor plan published in the guide provided by show organizers, you can break the area down into manageable quantities of booths, aisles and floors.  Some show-goers restrict their floor visits solely to suppliers with whom they regularly conduct business, or whose products they're most interested in. While this practice is time-savvy, and sometimes necessary, it's not the best way to "do" a show. By skipping over booths, you run the risk of missing out on new ingredients or processes that could otherwise have enhanced your formulations.  If time allows, try to cover the show floor twice - once over lightly, then a second trip back to visit particular suppliers. As you walk the floor, take notes either on paper or by using a tape recorder. These show-floor impressions will help jog your memory when, back at your desk, you review the tons of product literature you're sure to collect.  Also, if possible, try to make at least one of these show-floor tours alone. By yourself, you're more likely to remain focused on your own objectives. This way you won't be delayed by stops at booths in which you have no interest.  Expand your network. One of the biggest benefits of convention attendance may or may not be planned. That benefit is networking - the chance to see old colleagues and make new contacts at practically every turn.  As previously noted, meeting rooms are great places to strike up conversations. But so are hotel lobbies, taxi cab lines, even the shuttle buses to and from the convention center. Opportune meetings can occur just about anywhere, so be sure to keep all those business cards handy.  A note on receiving business cards from others: If an exchange of cards results in your promising to do something - send information or call with a contact name, for example - make a note of it on the business card you received, then follow through. The ability to make good on a promise, no matter how small, is the essence of successful networking.  Review your findings. The old saying "It ain't over 'til it's over," just doesn't apply to trade shows. The show floor countdown during the final moments on closing day may signal the end of the convention itself, but it also signifies the start of your post-show evaluation.  Back within the friendly confines of your office or lab, review the materials you collected. Keep those that will prove useful, and toss the rest. Discuss your experiences with fellow attendees, or present your discoveries to colleagues who did not attend, then put your findings to work in new formulations and processes.  With the convention safely behind you, you can go back to your daily routine. But don't let your newly refined skills lapse. Conventional wisdom dictates that another show will be just around the corner.SIDEBAR:
  The flip side of attending a trade show as a food technologist attendee is participating as an exhibitor. While you might find certain show-related activities interesting, and you certainly intend to check out the offerings at other exhibits, your primary mission is to sell your product line.
  Trade shows provide literally thousands of potential sales prospects, and offer the opportunity for face-to-face salesmanship. Remember these tips for boosting sales booth performance:

* Smile, make eye contact and greet visitors cordially
* Ascertain whether the individual is a potential customer through tactful use of the 5WH formula -- asking questions beginning with who, what, when, where, why and how -- in the course of friendly conversation.
* Keep presentations short and sweet, about five minutes, while allowing ample opportunity for dialogue and questions.
* If a new group of visitors should appear while you're in the middle of a demonstration, acknowledge the newcomers and invite them to listen in.
* Back up your statements with promotional materials, but don't rely on the literature to do your selling for you. Hand it out only after the visitors have been qualified as potential buyers.
* Inform the individual of how you intend to follow up, either with a phone call or by mailing additional information, then follow through within two to three days of the show's close.
* End your encounter with a thank-you, a smile and a firm handshake, while providing a booth premium (key chain, spatula, magnet) as a token of your appreciation.
  Pam Erickson Otto is a free-lance writer who has covered the food industry for nearly 15 years. Her interests include the product-development process and issues relating to R&D management.Back to top

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