Posted on 4/20/2016

7 tips for making the most out of industry events and conferences

John Bedz

At industry events and conferences, we often hear attendees joke about two things: The first being that a person could spend every working day attending these events, which takes away valuable time from performing their “real” jobs. The second comment often overheard is that attendees travel to meet and exchange ideas with contacts that could have been reached from their offices. 

While there is truth to both of these statements, we should remember that attending industry events and conferences can be an invaluable investment — if you do some planning ahead to prepare and dedicate a little time afterwards to follow up. 

Here are a few broad strokes you can put into practice at the upcoming Michigan Defense Expo (MDEX), being presented by the Michigan Chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association, April 27-28. These tips can also apply to any business events and conferences you plan to attend this year. 

  1. Look up exhibitors beforehand and plan some visits. As the MDEX grows each year, it is becoming more difficult to visit every booth as you may have in the past. A little forethought will save you some time as you plan a route through the exhibit area. Also, take a moment to visit some non-local exhibitors. These companies might have a particular interest in making connections in Michigan to establish a more local presence within the Michigan defense manufacturing community.
  2. Check in with existing contacts. The defense industry has seen a reduction in activity over the past few years, especially in manufacturing and production. Some of the larger companies are forming teams and seeking new suppliers to work with on projects they are developing for 2018 and beyond. Some may have updated their supplier procedures. This show is perfect for finding out the next steps to re-enter that supply chain. 
  3. Update your infrastructure profile. Most events, MDEX included, have a strong presence from the organizations and programs that do the legwork of the industry. MDEX is a great place to stop by the Procurement Technical Assistance Center exhibit. PTACs know the pulse of this sector and can often direct you to upcoming opportunities and training that might help you build business. Automation Alley is included in this group, so stop by our table to learn about how our defense programs can help you connect with the right opportunity. We can also inform you of opportunities within the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan Defense Center that are making the defense sector a larger piece of the Michigan economy.
  4. Look for side-by-side opportunities near the event. Some events have golf outings, but MDEX has TARDEC Industry Days. This two-day industry briefing will take place April 26-27 and will provide an overview of TARDEC (U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center) program areas, as well as an opportunity to meet with the program leads from TARDEC. While not every company is set up to participate with the research activity at TARDEC, your customers might be. Registration limits and time may prevent everyone from attending, but TARDEC will have a presence at MDEX to help you learn about opportunities beyond research projects. 
  5. Stop by the government booths. Government employees are often limited in their opportunities to interact with industry. MDEX is an event where there will be a lot of interaction. Visit the TARDEC and TACOM LCMC areas to learn about programs, contracting mechanisms and other ways to proceed with this sector. Newer programs, like the National Advanced Mobility Consortium, place a premium on identifying partners new to the defense sector. Examining these could lead to new business. The TACOM Small Business Office is also present and is the first place that program managers look for information on industry capabilities. 
  6. Prepare and stay focused. If you were at a mobile device conference, you would not walk up to the Apple display and ask: What do you guys make? Take a little time to know at least one bit of information about a company when approaching their display. It can even be an inquiry about a sample they have on display. They brought it to feature at this show for a reason, and their answer will include an inquiry about your interest. When you get your chance to talk about why you are at MDEX, try your best to focus on your capabilities and specific work your team excels in for you customers, defense or otherwise. Hearing that “we can do everything” tells a contact that no one specific capability is good enough to get a potential new customer’s attention. If they see promise, they’ll ask questions about your work to determine if you’re a match to do business together. 
  7. Follow up. After taking a day or so to catch up on the work you missed while at the show, drop your contact a note about your conversation. Remember, they may have met a few hundred people that week. Remind them that you spoke and that you wanted to follow up about X, Y, or Z. Include in this that you want to do the work to take the next steps and don’t want to burden them too much to help you. They’ll appreciate you taking the lead, and this approach will work in your favor as you will be perceived as someone who does not need a lot of hand-holding. 

Best of luck at MDEX and future business events and conferences in 2016! If you have any questions about how Automation Alley can assist you, don’t hesitate to contact us.


About the Author

John Bedz | Automation Alley

John Bedz has been an Automation Alley consultant since 2008, focused on Department of Defense projects at the intersection of defense and automotive technology. This role is increasing in 2016 as projects on robotics and autonomy come online. He has a long history of working with early-stage technology development projects, and he previously managed efforts on nanotechnology and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) in Michigan and on a national level. His experience with new technology development projects and technology transition initiatives reaches back nearly two decades.  


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