The Gang’s All Here…
I’m not talking about hoodlums (although I have met some unsavory types on the road).
I’m referring to “communities” or “tribes” (as Seth Godin calls them) or “associations.” These are the business gangs that gather across the country for the purposes of education, entertainment, schmoozing with other like-minded people, and (sometimes) getting stupid drunk in hotel bars.
This year, I’ve attended at least ten trade shows and conferences across various industries. Although these gatherings took a bit of a nosedive during the recession, they seem to be back. Just as kids and hipsters and aging hippies make pilgrimages to Coachella and SXSW and Burning Man, professionals throng to the more staid meeting rooms and exhibit halls. In the past few months, I’ve been to events about:
- Summer Camp
- Restaurant Supplies
- Bars & Nightclubs
- Health Care
- Events. (Yes…you read that correctly…people organize events about events. And an association of associations also exists. Go figure.)
Despite the tech boom, I’ve concluded that people really DO like to spend time together…especially with other people who care about the same stuff. Events validate ones choice to go into a particular industry and one doesn’t have to bore other people at cocktail parties talking about their “work stuff,” because it’s everyone else’s work stuff too. Let’s face it…we like to hang out with people who like the same things we do. And not just on Facebook.
Each of these events has a unique personality. As a speaker/blogger, I have honorary membership in the “club” for a few days. I have a special ribbon on the bottom of my name tag, so people know that I don’t quite fit in. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Industry insiders tire of speaking to each other after a while, and I provide a diversion.
The formats are pretty similar…
- You get a badge
- You attend conference sessions
- You live tweet, so people know you’re doing something valuable with your time and that you’re a social media rock star
- You eat and drink a lot
- If you’re really committed, you sit in a big spirit-lifting session (like a business revival meeting) about industry trends and plans for the future
- You wander the aisles at the trade show, collecting pens and breath mints
- Your feet hurt
- You eat and drink some more
- You collect lots and lots of business cards and get your badge scanned
- You return your badge holder (or throw it away if you don’t care about recycling) and go home. Many people get too busy when they return to follow-up with the people they met. Others use the scanned badge information to send aggressive weekly e-mails. The smart professionals set-up a strategic follow-up plan. (That’s actually what I spoke about at the conference I’m returning from. Contact me if you’d like my Prezi. But you’ll have to come see me speak next time to know what I actually said about the goldfish.)
Snark aside, trade shows and conferences (the good ones) are a tremendous source of inspiration, new contacts, and trend information. I highly recommend them. Not just for the pens and booze.