By RICHARD B. KELSKY
FiSCA’s 2011 Conference and Expo has come and gone, and many attendees probably haven’t given it a lot of thought since jetting home. I, on the other hand, find my brain quite busy contemplating the experience, new opportunities for the coming year and FiSCA 2012.
Being an attendee, an Exhibit Hall vendor, and a workshop presenter at FiSCA (not to mention a columnist looking for his next story) can make you feel a bit schizophrenic. Since most conference goers only fall into one of the above-noted groups, I thought it would be helpful to share my Sybil-like perspective on the event.
As a workshop presenter and exhibitor, one is somewhat of an insider at least to a portion of what goes into organizing these yearly mega-events that most attendees don’t see.
When I reflect on how seamlessly the entire event ran, and the quality of each element, from registration through checkout, I felt a real respect for the FiSCA team that planned and implemented a virtually perfect convention experience.
As a “working” attendee, I truly appreciated having no bumps in the road. The hotel was flawless, the Exhibit Hall management responsive and prepared, and the scheduled events – whether dining, learning or listening – went off without a hitch.
It may sound corny, but every year, when the FiSCA announcement arrives months before the actual event, I get excited. I immediately get into an “imagineering” mental state.
It starts with envisioning the event is only a couple of weeks away, and sketching out all I need to get done as though I’m already under the gun. But if you know me, you know I will never put myself in that position. Conceive, plan, implement and succeed is my process.
This year’s readiness drill was largely the same as any other year, except that I added a workshop proposal based upon one of my recent articles, “The Model Has Changed.” That created a host of new questions to answer.
How do I make the proposal compelling? What panel members will make the workshop more effective? How will we make it a “must attend” workshop? What will the PowerPoint, handouts and materials include?
It’s the Little Things
Ultimately, though, it’s those little, seemingly inconsequential details that are either meticulously considered or absent-mindedly overlooked that make or break your conference experience.
One of the first things I consider in preparing for the event is the location. Upscale or perhaps a bit more casual? For me, appropriate appearances count.
A premium venue like a JW Marriott or Ritz Carlton require your best. They mean bringing more and better clothes, dining in nicer restaurants (and making reservations) and keeping your appearance consistent with the upscale environment.
It doesn’t hurt to pack a dare-to-dream mentality, too. As a mostly symbolic gesture, wherever I go – even if it is a cold climate — I always pack a swimsuit. I feel compelled to do so, if only to satisfy the fantasy that this will be the year I finally have time to lounge poolside.
But as a vendor, if you actually spend more than a few moments at the water’s edge, you are not doing the job you came to do. The same is true for alcohol and all-niters. Drinking too much and staying up too late is a formula for failure later when responsible adults and businesspeople are looking for you at your best.
At some point, you have to ask yourself: Do I want to be seen as a professional or a drinking buddy? Very few can manage to be both.
And speaking of “too casual,” I understand the temptation to pack the AC/DC T-shirt and torn jeans. (Someone once said to me, “One can never be too rich, too thin or have too many furs.” To which I mentally responded, “One can never be too single.”)
But I also learned long ago one can never be too well-dressed for success. Just don’t ask how I get all that stuff into a carry-on.
What’s Hot, and Not
Looking past what you should be doing, its important to consider what the attendees will want to do, and where they’ll spend their time.
Their decision-making process will depend largely on whether you’re in a “resort” or a “destination” city. Do I, for instance, really believe anyone will come to the Exhibit Hall after 7 p.m. on a Saturday night? Not a chance in Vegas. But in Orlando, where lots of folks are spending Saturday night “on campus,” perhaps.
On the Big Question of what to give away at our Exhibit Hall booth, a destination can all but make your decision for you. In Florida, what could have been more appropriate than sunglasses in a parade of shades, from black to white, with hot pink, and yellow in between? That was I question that I asked and answered in seconds.
Hotness quotients don’t just drive your choice in giveaways. Each year I look over our current software suite and new product release schedule. I do so with the understanding that all successful product launches build-in time for development, release, customer education, market acceptance and expanding demand.
Bearing all that in mind, you have to ask: What product will be “hot” by the date of the show? What needs to be introduced to people so that it will be hot by the next show? Once I figure out the “What” as driven by the “When,” I formulate the marketing approach for the show: Booth display graphics, literature and promotional materials.
Then I develop a plan for the show. Our sales team discusses in advance what we’ll be featuring and make sure everyone is up on their product and demo knowledge.
In short, we make sure that the Exhibit Hall experience for attendees is the best it can be.
As the date of the meeting approaches, I don’t slack off. I continue to develop a plan and a theme.
Which customers do I expect to see? Any meetings that I want to schedule? How can I stay on the cutting edge of industry directions and products?
Be Cool, Not Cold
I address this last set of questions by looking at the Exhibit Hall like a kid in a candy shop. This is my chance to see our customers and meet many people who could become customers.
Because I philosophically hate the walls business competitors erect, I make a major effort to break them down. I visit with them in their booths, both during setup and through the days to follow.
It’s about small gestures — just saying hello, extending a hand in friendship, offering that hand in setup help or in moving something heavy. Often I’ll suggest competitors stop by our booth to pick up some of our cool giveaways, or a spare mouse if they need one.
The message I’m sending is one I need to hear as much (or more) than anyone on the receiving end of it. Namely, that life is too short and the world too small for old-school behavior. I want us to be bigger than that.
With those outreach efforts underway, my next mission is to learn all about what’s new and exciting outside of our product area. This is when the Exhibit Hall morphs from candy store to college.
What’s the latest loan product and how is it presented? What’s new in buying precious metals? Which card offering is attracting attention? Which bankers are courting customers and being romanced right back? What’s new in the world of money transfers? Which company can tell me more about me than I can? How can our software deliver all the latest goodies to our customers?
Like everything else in life, planning and preparation is key to putting together a workshop. My workshop had numerous iterations.
First came the development not only of a subject, but also of a theme. I tested both at meetings in New York and New Jersey.
Then came the fleshing out of all the elements to be included in my syllabus as the workshop’s facilitator, followed by PowerPoint brainstorming and development.
Next came the tall order of assembling a panel with the right pedigree. I had to speak with each panelist to determine not only their interest in participating, but their individual energy level, excitement and public presentation skills, too.
Through several rounds of circulating the PowerPoint presentation, I refined the theme and look. I met with the panel members and engaged in discussions to cultivate the theme in each of them so it would flow out of them naturally at the workshop.
I decided on handouts. In my experience, when all your handouts are gone you’ve had a successful meeting.
I then conducted final meetings with the panel onsite and got comfortable with the meeting room. For each session, I arrived early, checked the equipment, presentation PC, microphones and sound quality. Again, it’s about the little things.
At every trade show and meeting I’ve attended, there are vendors who complain about everything. Exhibit Hall traffic; their booth location; their guide listing; power or internet issues; late arrival of their goods and materials; Exhibit Hall hours, and on-and-on.
Most of the time, these are related to the vendor — not the show. The simple fact is you make your own booth traffic.
You make your own relationships with other vendors at the show. You learn and grow on the show floor. You choose to engage others or sit and talk only with your co-workers. You apply early to get the booth location you want. You actually send in your order for power and Internet – and make sure it got there. You ship your goods in advance and confirm their receipt. You fill out the guide listing form and send it in twice, and you maximize everything about the show.
In short, it’s all in your control.
After all was said and done, it took me a week to recover from FiSCA XXIII. No, not from partying. It turns out that it’s much more grueling to put your all into the success of the event than trying to relive your youth.
In the end, that allowed me to score FiSCA’s latest conference a “10.” And I only had to put in an “11” effort to earn it.
My compliments to the FiSCA team. I am already looking forward to next year!
Richard Kelsky is president of TellerMetrix, Inc. a provider of POS transaction, compliance, interface, electronic deposit and marketing software to check cashers, payday lenders and retail banks. He is also a New York and Connecticut Bar member, a Polytechnic Institute of New York University and New York Law School grad, a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist and a frequent lecturer on business, legal, compliance, and technology issues. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org