We’re back from Orlando, and what a great WBENC conference it was! Sort of lost count on the number we’ve attended, but they get better and larger every year. We believe national conferences and business fairs are a fantastic way for SDMWVLGBTBE (Small, Disadvantaged, Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprise) owners and staff to connect with existing and future customers and suppliers. Of course, it can also be overwhelming! You meet thousands of new faces, discuss hundreds of opportunities, get educated and entertained in one very compressed period of time.
When we attend, sponsor or exhibit at a WBENC or other event we go with a flexible agenda, open minds and comfortable shoes. Trust us, you absolutely, positively need comfortable footwear for the miles you’re going to cover! The step challenge was won by an attendee in high heels that would have crippled us in 30 minutes.
Beyond shoes, we’ve developed some strategies that make post conference follow up a bit easier. For us, the most important is business card notes – we always write keywords on the person’s card. One of our cards says AUTOCODER and migrations, because the conversation was about converting legacy systems. In our follow up communications, we’ll be reminding this contact exactly what we talked about when we provide the capabilities statement requested. Each card we brought back has three or four words that will help us re-engage in meaningful conversation.
There are the really cool products you stumble upon bumping into other conference attendees. Our favorite this year, Happi Tummi. We wondered why the lady with cool yellow spats (okay, we’re obsessed with footwear) was carrying around a baby doll. Not being shy, we asked and learned … if you have little ones in your immediate circle, you’ll want to check out this remedy for calming crying babies. If you fly a lot, it might be a handy brief case tool to settle a fellow traveler for a more peaceful journey.
We’re always on the lookout for partnering opportunities, and this event added several potential collaborators. Where appropriate, we’ve already sent email about some August matchmaking opportunities that might be helpful to them. When we talk next, they will already know we’re committed to mutually beneficial relationships, because we took the time to provide useful information without any expectations.
And, don’t overlook the educational opportunities at your conferences!
The keynote speaker for the Forum Event talked about the case for diversity, a topic we covered in many 2013 posts. What was interesting to us was Ms. Brown’s discussion of covering, defined as the things we “choose not to share” because we’re concerned how they might be perceived in our workplace even though they may be traits that are key to who we are as authentic human beings. We were taught as children never to discuss religion, sex or politics. Yet, our beliefs, practices and orientation often define us. How do we balance who we are with who our employers expect us to be when representing them?
There was another STEP – Supplier Training & Empowerment Program – offered several times by Coca Cola and delivered by Becky A. Davis. She quoted Bob Burg, “Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.” We need to make a difference in our communities and Ms. Davis challenged us to answer “Who are you serving/advocating/volunteering for”?
So, we came back with our work cut out for us. We’ll be busily following up with those we met. Our minds will process the new information we gained and we’ll refresh our approach to customers, colleagues and partners based on last week’s experience. We’d love to hear about your conference experiences, strategies and tactics.