Using Tradeshow Intelligence as a Professional Development Tool

As the GMN annual conference nears, I am reminded of a technique that competitive intelligence professionals use at tradeshows to gather information about their competitors.  These techniques are also very powerful if used for collective professional development.

Conferences provide an amazing amount of information that can be overwhelming to absorb and can be exhausting. By the end of day two the smell of fried brain permeates the air.  Try using tradeshow information-gathering techniques so that you and your colleagues can focus on specific areas you want to learn more about and in turn benefit from the knowledge of the group. Whether you are attending with a group of co-workers or are going alone, you can make the absolute most out of your conference experience with a little planning and organization.

Assemble your Team and Preplan

Gather your work team or, if you are attending the conference alone, reach out to your network and get a team together–about 4 to 5 people. Before your work team or networking team even heads to the conference you’ll need to talk through and agree on what you are looking for and who will be collecting the information.

  1. Each team member should come up with 3 work scenarios that they need help with. Share with the group and merge any similar scenarios.
  2. Develop no more than 5 questions that support each scenario and assign a particular scenario to each member of the group.
  3. Review the entire conference program and lists of who is going to be there (attendee list, networking breaks, exhibit hall vendors, sponsor lists, and extracurricular activities). All of these things can inform your questions!
  4. Identify events, sessions, and people to talk with who will inform your questions and assign to members of your team. In some cases you all will be at the same event–different perspectives from the same experience are extremely valuable!

Divide and Conquer

When you all arrive at the conference, designate a time each day where you will all come together for a quick debrief meeting and share the top three things you learned.

Talk to everyone! This includes presenters, the person sitting next to you, GMN staff, and exhibitors. Collect contact information and make a note for yourself as to why they were helpful to talk to. You have now expanded your professional network.

TIP: while you personally may not be in the market for whatever service an exhibitor is representing, remember that they truly are solution providers; you and what you do are their business! Ask a few questions, get their advice on the scenarios your team came up with. 

Continue to take notes throughout the conference and plan to send in a conference takeaways summary document to share after you get back to the office. On your trip home you may remember a few things that you didn’t have the opportunity to share with the group. Jot these down!

Plan to meet in person (if possible) or by phone to talk through what you collectively learned and how it can inform the scenarios you came up with before the conference.

A New Way of Working

Hopefully you will have learned at least three new things that will change the way you do your job when you get back. My guess is you will have a lot more than three things available to you if you use the team approach to attending the GMN conference! Keep up your new network by inviting them to your linked in profile, continue your data gathering by posting questions (or better yet sharing your solutions!) on the MY GMN discussion board, discuss your data gathering exercise during your next performance review to demonstrate your leadership growth.

I look forward to seeing you at the conference!

Liz Bicer