Weekly Editorial

Maximizing the Benefit of Attending Industry Events

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • May 30, 2023

Speaker giving a talk in conference hall at business event. Audience at the conference hall. Business and Entrepreneurship concept. Focus on unrecognizable people in audience.

One of the best parts of our amazing industry is its events. From NeoCon to Orgatec to Clerkenwell Design Week and ICFF, the commercial interiors industry does events right. But I’m often surprised by the number of people who tell me they don’t get much out of them.

There is a science to attending industry events and they take a certain amount of preparation. These are not corporate boondoggles. They are professional events and deserve to be treated with professionalism.

Here are some tips and tricks to make the most of industry events:

  1. Set a reasonable schedule: If you try to schedule too many showroom visits during NeoCon, you are going to find yourself behind by about 10 a.m. Monday. You might not be able to do it this way, but here is how I handle NeoCon appointments — I simply do not make them. At this time of the year, I am bombarded by companies asking me to make appointments for a tour. I politely decline with a very important caveat. If I am invited to a showroom, I always go, but never at a specific, scheduled time. I explain to the person inquiring that I understand the person I might want to speak to may not be there or available. If that’s the case, I often return. Otherwise, I’ll take the tour I can get when I arrive.

  2. Limit your alcohol intake: This is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. Industry events are bound to have some drinks, but remember that you are there to work. It’s not a frat party. It is a social event. Mixers at industry events are just that — a way to mix and meet people you may not know. It is tempting on Monday at NeoCon to unwind at the many showroom parties after a long day walking THE MART. Limit yourself to a drink or two.

  3. Watch what you eat and drink lots of water: Industry events are physically difficult, especially if they stretch over multiple days. It is common for me to log 10 miles or more on my health app during events. That means you need a lot more water than average. I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing along a refillable water bottle that clips onto my messenger bag that I fill at drinking fountains. It saves a lot of money and keeps me hydrated. At NeoCon in particular, since I’m attending a lot of dinners at restaurants that serve amazingly delicious, but rich foods that my body isn’t used to, I’ve set a rule for myself — one big steak dinner. The rest of the meals I try to eat as healthily as I do at home.

  4. Forget the business cards: As I sit here writing this column, I am staring at a six inch stack of business cards I’ve collected at recent industry events. They have been sitting there for at least a year. I have no idea whose cards they are and I’ll likely never use any of them to contact the people listed on them. If I need to speak to someone I don’t know well, I simply look them up. Personally, I’ve turned to a Dot card. It is a digital business card that I keep in my wallet. When someone asks me for a card, I pull out the Dot, hold it up to the back of their smartphone and all my contact information magically appears. The person simply has to click a button, which automatically adds me to their contacts. A nice feature of Dot is that if your information changes — say you get a new job or new phone number — you simply change it online, which not only updates future Dot connections, but also everyone who has downloaded your info in the past.

  5. Get out of your cliques: Chances are the industry event you are attending is not in your home town and you’ll be with a lot of people you don’t know and a smattering of those you do. The temptation is to hang out with the people you know. Don’t. You are attending industry events, in part, to meet new people. It’s hard to do that if you hang out with the folks you already know. Give the room a once-over and look for others who might be standing alone or to the side. They probably know fewer people than you and they will appreciate it if you strike up a conversation.

  6. Prioritize the people you want to see: Create a list of who you’d really like to see at an industry event and rank them from first to last. Work from that list from top to bottom. It doesn’t mean the folks at the bottom of the list aren’t worthy of your time, but doing this helps make certain that you see the people and companies you need to see.

Industry events are fun and rewarding. By following these tips, you should be able to get the most out of them, personally and professionally. See you at the show!

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