Published in FSD Update
Intimate meetings often bring about valuable information.
We, and our sponsors, have seen the value of the relatively small size of our own conference, MenuDirections. With only 140 or so operators in attendance at MenuDirections, the more than 20 sponsors we typically attract get to spend a lot of time getting to know a tightly knit group. More than few manufacturers have told me that, in non-commercial foodservice, the selling game is not about touting product. It’s about building relationships, which is why gatherings like the NACUFS symposium are well worth the time and money these sponsors put up.
There is also value for the operators. In my experience, much more is discussed in such gatherings than typically would occur in a large meeting. Think about it: At a national conference, how much time do you get to speak with one other person—in a business sense—during the course of the event? You may speak with dozens of people and pick up an equal amount of snippets of information that may or may not be valuable. But bring together 15 to 30 people for that same amount of time and by the end of that time you will have spoken with fewer people but gathered more detailed intel.
That’s a model worth encouraging, and I would advocate it for all associations. Even at a local level, a small group meeting, unstructured or semi-structured, might be more valuable for your members—with or without the sponsor involvement—than you realize.
I know that most associations have these small meetings at the local or regional chapter level. But the key to taking those meetings to the next level could be as simple as loosening the structure and encouraging more interaction. You won’t solve the world’s problems, but you might just help a few members tackle their most pressing issues.