By Bob Bauer
Traveling for business is a necessary evil for me. In fact, I’m writing this as I’m in an airport in Turkey waiting to board the first of three flights to get me home. If all goes as planned, I’ll be home in 28 hours. After nearly 20 years with AFI, learned to take the bad with the good and try to make the most of my time on the road.
With today’s connected world, one works a lot longer when traveling now than before the Internet and email. The days used to be long enough already. Whether putting on your own event or representing yourself at another industry event, the hours are long. Throw in a day or more of travel each way and the scenario has always had exhaustion written all over it. Now, however, when you get done with everything else you have to do, if you haven’t been able to do it as you go along, you have to spend x amount of time checking/replying to emails, etc.
I was fortunate to be able to bring my wife and children along with me to several events our association ran when the kids were younger. I’ve had to remind them over the years that I chose those particular events because I knew I could squirrel away a little free time at them and that there would be other kids their ages there. So as they got older and heard I was going away, they figured I had a few hours most days to sit around the pool, etc. Of source, it didn’t help that my flustered wife would sometimes say I was on vacation when I went away on business.
Truth be told, whether it’s something around the corner or on the other side of the globe, when you’re away from the office on business, you’re always “on”. Take this trip, for example. It was at an all-inclusive resort. The meals that were not a part of the function were buffets held in two restaurants. I didn’t make plans to have any meals with anyone but there wasn’t a meal I didn’t sit with someone I knew and talk about industry issues. It’s great in terms of getting the pulse of my membership but it means you’re always “on.” I didn’t have time to relax on the beach or at the pool but if I did, I’m sure someone would have come by to talk. It happens a lot and did so at our conference just last month. So even when you have the opportunity to unwind a bit, you’re still “on” because you run into members. When it happened at our conference, it turned about to be a couple of great conversations with people who have now pledged to be more active in the association.
So I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. At this event, 50-75 of the 1,000 attendees were from member companies. Another couple of hundred knew about our association but either aren’t members or really don’t need to be. Since we have members all over the world, I don’t see some of these people very frequently and vice versa, so recognition can be difficult. I make it a practice to wear shirts with the association logo on it so people who don’t know/recognize me have a better chance of making a connection. It also helps keep them from having to squint at the conference name badge to see who I am. I can think of three occasions during this event when people stopped me because they recognized the association’s logo on my shirt. (Yes, I purchased the shirts from an MASAE associate member – Brown Dog Marketing.)
- Interruption –
Sorry about that. While sitting in the airport club writing this, someone who was at the same event as me noticed my shirt and struck up a conversation. Here’s hoping it results in another company added to the membership roster.
Another tactic I’ve used over the years is to volunteer to speak or do something else publicly during the event. Speaking is the best option because it puts you in a position of authority as you expose yourself to potential members. It also helps existing members feel good about the association because they’re hearing an association representative provide valuable information.
I also keep myself in front of people in other ways. At this event, during portions of the day when no formal activities were planned, I found spots in a couple of high-traffic areas, which resulted in several people finding me and discussing industry issues with me. At a trade show next month at which AFI doesn’t have a booth, I’ll spend a lot of time in one of the show floor’s main corridors. Thousands of people go to this event and by spending time in its busiest area, I’m able to see many of my members who attend the show. Usually, at least a couple say they need to introduce a potential member to me.
One thing I’ve started doing lately is not rushing home (he says as he leaves his current trip early to get home in time to celebrate his wedding anniversary). I’ll also leave early if I’ve been to the event before and I know the networking typically is not good at, for example, the closing dinner. After all, I do want to make it home to be with my family. But unless I want to get home for family reasons, things like red-eyes are not in the cards. I just don’t see the value of finishing a meeting in California at 6 p.m., having dinner with someone and then rushing to the airport to get little or no sleep and arrive home early in the morning in need of sleep/time to recover. I find it much more effective to have that same (early) dinner, get to bed early, get an early start and be home in the late afternoon pretty much back on schedule and perhaps having had time to get some work done on the plane. If the meeting ends earlier than 6 and/or there’s no dinner with someone, then I’ll use that time to start the meeting minutes or otherwise catch up on things.
When I return to the office, those who don’t travel for business may, like my kids used to, think I was on a vacation of sorts, particularly if I mention how nice the setting was or say something about a pool, a bar or a nice dinner. But more than ever, business travel means incredibly long days where you’re always “on.” But when you get down to it, that’s a good thing.