10 Networking Tips for the Upcoming IAAPA Expo

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Do you subscribe to the AttractionPros Podcast?  We discuss these tips (and a few more!) in the episode released October 31, 2017.  Be sure to listen and subscribe!

It is upon us again, the annual IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando, Florida.  With 9 miles of aisles, a phenomenal lineup of speakers and education sessions, and more than 30,000 attendees, this expo can be overwhelming, no matter how many years you have been attending.  Whether you are looking to boost your career, lock in new business, or deciding how to make the next big investment at your attraction, you can achieve any or all of the above with proper networking.

The show can go by very quickly, and there can be many, many distractions, so I have put together a few tips that I have picked up over the years that have helped manage my time, energy, and resources during what should be the most productive week of the year for anyone in the attractions industry.  If you have any more that you would like to add, please send them to me!

  1. Bring business cards. It seems so obvious, right? I can’t tell you how many conference that I have been to when I strike up an excellent conversation and want to keep it going after the show, and when I make the offer to exchange cards, they tell me that they didn’t bring any.  This may seem like a “101 lesson,” but unfortunately, it happens too often.  Always have a way to connect with someone after the show.  It doesn’t have to be the fanciest card you can buy.  Vista Print offers affordable products that are very high quality.  Stick to a regular rectangle.  An oddly shaped card will stand out, but it might be a nuisance to everyone with whom you network.
  2. Collect business cards. Since bringing business cards was step 1, it would only make sense that if you are bringing cards, you are collecting cards too. If you have established a solid conversation with someone to whom you may add value or vice versa, always be sure to request a card from them.  It can be way too cumbersome to remember people’s names and contact information without having it in your hand immediately.  One thing I started doing a few years ago was writing notes on people’s cards after I talked to them, reminding myself what we talked about.  Recently I presented at a conference and several people approached me after and asked for me to email the presentation, and I never would have remembered who to send it to if I hadn’t asked for their card and specifically wrote “send Power Point” on it.  It was quick and easy, but it made sure to keep the conversation going.
  3. Prepare an elevator speech. An elevator speech is your “30 second commercial” about who you are, that quickly gets to the point without going into too much detail, as if you only had a quick elevator ride to sell who you are. Ironically, I was once asked to give an elevator speech while inside an elevator – what made it more ironic is that the prospective client’s main attraction was… an elevator.  How can you quickly sum up who are, by giving just enough detail to make the listener want to learn more, but without taking up too much of their time?
  4. Talk to strangers. This goes against unconventional wisdom and basic practice that we are taught at a young age. However, in order to build your network, you can’t only stick to people that you know, unless they are regularly introducing you to new people.  When I attend networking events, I usually try to find a table where there may be one or two open seats, and the rest full of people that I’m about to meet.  I sit down, I introduce myself, and I begin asking people who they are.  That gets the ball rolling on increasing my network every single time.
  5. Attend sessions. There are A LOT of phenomenal educational opportunities at this show. Anything from food & beverage operations, to safety, leadership, and marketing, there literally is something for everybody.  Attend a session that you know you will gain insight from, but also where your prospective clients, future employers, partners, or vendors may be.  If possible, plan questions for the Q&A component at the end of the sessions; ask something relevant to the session that may spark further discussion.  See if anybody else in the room has something to say, and keep the conversation going after the session.  Even better, introduce yourself to the speaker after the presentation and ask more questions directly.

    Side note: Matt Heller (aka Performance Optimist Consulting) will be leading several sessions throughout the week.  Make sure to check them out!

  6. Ask questions. Ask questions during the education sessions, but also ask as many questions as possible when talking to someone personally. Do not immediately begin talking about yourself and what you do, get them to be interested in you.  People love talking about themselves.  The more questions you can ask of someone, the more they will be engaged in the conversation, because you are making it about them, not you.
  7. Dress to impress. There is no official dress code for IAAPA, which means that everyone will be dressed differently. If you want people noticing you, dress just a little bit better than everyone else is.  I recommend “business casual” or higher.  No need for black tie attire, but pay particular attention to your appearance.

Side note: on the topic of how to dress, wear comfortable shoes.  There is a considerable amount of walking at this show, and my feet usually start throbbing after day 1.  I recommend wearing a gel insole in each of your shoes to minimize the pain.

  1. Schedule meetings in advance. It’s a big show, people are busy, and people get distracted. If you say to someone, “Hey, let’s meet up at some point during IAAPA,” odds are you won’t be able to find the time unless it is officially blocked out in advance.  I usually begin reaching out to countless people 2 ½ to 3 weeks ahead of the show to confirm that they will be there, determine the day that they are available, and schedule a specific time, meeting location, and meeting duration, along with what we will be discussing.  I then send them a calendar invite and watch to be sure that they confirm, and then send them a reminder 30 minutes before to verify.  I manage my calendar on Outlook to make sure that I don’t have any overlapping appointments or turnaround times that I can’t commit to.  Once I started scheduling meetings in advance instead of hoping to run into someone, my networking productivity skyrocketed.
  2. Attend events. Not all business is done on the trade show floor. I’ve secured clients and partnerships while riding rides and enjoying live entertainment.  These events are unique opportunities that you don’t get by showing up at people’s offices or scheduling a conference call.  The receptions and celebrations throughout the week are an excellent way to meet new people, learn more about the people you’re networking with, and foster a more casual environment that is still in a professional setting.
  3. Follow up. All of this is worth nothing if you don’t reach out to your contacts after the show. In your follow up email, I recommend saying that you enjoyed meeting them (if you are meeting for the first time, otherwise state that you enjoyed speaking with them), and, if you are taking proper notes on their business cards, reference something specific from the conversation you had.  This will spark the recipient’s memory and it will stand out compared to other follow ups that they receive.  I usually try to schedule calls and meetings within a few weeks after IAAPA as well.  This can be tough – IAAPA falls right before Thanksgiving, leaving just a few weeks between returning from Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, which could either mean time off for your network contacts or the busiest time of the year – depending on their location.  Try to set up follow ups during that crucial time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when you are still fresh in their mind.

And as always, enjoy the week!  It is the most exciting time of the year for our industry.  Learning about new products and attractions, hearing about innovations and new advancements in the industry, and not to mention seeing what crazy new food is being debuted.

One more thing – if you want to learn more about Amusement Advantage’s guest experience solutions, including our mystery shop program that is exclusive to the attractions industry, or just want to say hi, stop by booth 4518!

See you on the show floor!

Joshua Liebman
Originally posted October 31, 2017 

Joshua helps attractions understand and improve their guest experience.  As the Director of Business Development for Amusement Advantage, Joshua specializes in mystery shopping, quality assurance consulting, feedback analysis, and guest experience training.  Amusement Advantage proudly serves more than 500 attractions across the US and Canada.

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