Putting AFCEA To Good Use

January 2002
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

Good organizations do not exist in a vacuum, and AFCEA International is no exception. This association, like other dynamic organizations, is a work in progress. AFCEA’s leadership constantly strives to improve its service to its members, and part of that mission is to ensure that its members and guests fully benefit from their affiliation.

This association serves a multifaceted role. Rather than focusing exclusively on one aspect of a single discipline, AFCEA’s reach is broad without being shallow, and its activities span a range of different functions.

Virtually all of AFCEA’s key aspects can be found at its shows. Visitors to these events usually can find a sampling of the association’s most useful elements—innovative technologies, information dissemination, government/ industry dialogue, professional growth and networking—all underscored by the association’s international character.

Presenting a top-notch program of speakers and exhibitors is only part of the formula for success. One key to a successful show is ensuring that its participants can utilize these events fully, and AFCEA is striving to enrich its attendees by providing easier ways to capitalize on a show’s assets.

For example, AFCEA event attendees can improve their “productivity” merely by following a few guidelines. These approaches can benefit both booth personnel and their visitors as well as suit guests and symposia participants.

I have been privileged to view AFCEA events from all three perspectives—as a military member, an industry participant and an AFCEA executive. These perspectives provide me with a broad enough view of AFCEA events that I feel I could write a book on how attendees can capitalize on these symposia and expositions to the fullest.

Were I to write this book of AFCEA show attendance, the first chapter would be titled “Priorities.” Each event attendee—whether industry, civil government or military—should have a list of priorities separated into three categories: listen and learn; show and tell; network and enjoy.

These priorities will change for each person in different ways throughout the day. For example, a military attendee will engage in show and tell while on a panel. During this same period, the industry attendee is sitting in the audience in the listen-and-learn mode. Following the panel session, the industry attendee may engage in show-and-tell activity in a corporate booth on the exhibit floor, while the military official is in the listen-and-learn mode on the same exhibit floor. Network-and-enjoy continues to be a priority for all participants throughout the day and evening events.

Merely establishing these priorities is only the first step, however. Chapter two in the attendance book would be titled “Exhibitology.” This would encompass all aspects of displaying products and services as well as optimizing the display for each visitor to the booth.

For example, on many occasions I have seen military personnel approach an exhibit booth only to ask, “What do you do?” The exhibit person replies, “What do you want to see?” This conversation inevitably is doomed to end with unsatisfactory results for all.

A better approach would have the military visitor begin by stating his or her name, office, area of professional focus and pressing requirements. These facts, and a request for specifics about helping the visitor do a better job, will guide the exhibitor to a targeted response. The booth expert can discuss the company’s potential solutions and present brochures and contact information to the military visitor.

The results from this type of dialogue can be short-term or long-term. The military visitor may leave the hall with a potential solution in hand along with all the contact information needed to initiate implementation. Or, the attendee may decide that this solution does not solve the problem but would be useful for another office or department. Either way, the seed of industry solving a government challenge has been planted and is being nurtured.

The book’s third chapter would be titled “Elevator Speeches.” For those who are unfamiliar with the term, these are short addresses that provide encompassing information in few words—the sort of narration one might make to another person during an elevator trip. Outside confined spaces, these speeches have considerable value as succinct ways to inform and educate.

In the AFCEA event context, an exhibitor might notice that a key speaker on a particular day is a high-ranking officer from a specific command or service. That speaker would draw many other members of the command or service to hear their leader’s address. With this knowledge in hand, the exhibitor could be prepared with an elevator speech tailored to the speaker’s specialty.

But the tailored approach does not stop there. The exhibitor can prepare elevator speeches for two different categories of this service- or command-specific audience: general officers and specialized personnel. If a general officer approaches a booth, the exhibitor can immediately offer facts such as the number and role of company experts working in that officer’s command. This would be complemented by an explanation of how the goods and services on display at the show could help meet other requirements. For specialized personnel, the elevator speech could describe specific elements and details such as functions, capabilities and training packages.

Implementing just these three “chapters” would allow far greater benefit from AFCEA exhibits and events for all participants. And, that, after all, is what AFCEA International seeks for its members and attendees—superior service from the information technology professional’s association of choice.