Serving the home health, home care and hospice industry since 1999.

by Roger McManus

While the grandeur of the Gaylord Resort in Grapevine, Texas may be on the awe-inspiring side of kitsch, attending a trade show there can either be the high point of your business year or an expensive waste of time. While this caveat is certainly true for next week’s annual National Association for Home Care and Hospice Conference and Expo, it applies to every state or national association meeting you attend.

I know what I am talking about. Over the past 30 years, I have attended many dozens of trade shows, personally produced nearly 40 of them, and exhibited at many more. Perhaps the most frustrating thing I have observed, regardless of industry sector, is attendees wasting learning opportunities that are laid out before them, especially in the exhibit hall.

Exhibitors spend thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, setting up their exhibits, flying in their executives and staff, and putting them up in overpriced hotel rooms, often with attached, mandatory “resort fees” they will never use during an intense work week. Attendees invest lots of money as well, on travel, lodging, and conference admission fees. In other words, both groups have paid for the opportunity to meet each other.

Therefore, producers of trade events do everything they can to encourage these two groups to interact. The frustration I mentioned is that, unfortunately, most attendees make a critical mistake. They visit with people whom they know but artfully pass by vendor booths with which they are unfamiliar, carefully avoiding eye contact lest they be drawn into a conversation they mistakenly think will not be valuable. After spending all this money, they turn the show into more of a reunion of friends than the "mixer it is supposed to be, where people meet those whom they don't know and learn about their products and services.

Why do so many conference attendees spend money to get there and then waste the opportunity? Shyness? Arrogance? Is it the "old-timer-already-knows-it-all so don't try to sell me" attitude? Or the "first-timer more interested in fun than fundamentals?" Those possibilities are too critical. I believe it is probably that they are simply oblivious – not knowing how to work a trade show. It's too bad, really. Attendees miss a learning opportunity and exhibitors lose the opportunity to teach them something from which they may benefit.

I would encourage you to do something different at the NAHC Conference this year. With advance planning, a strategic execution and proper follow-up, you can make it a most profitable experience – and you can still have fun.

Why attend at all?

Of course, the answer has to be a little more than "three days away from the office." Here are your real reasons:

Intentional Networking: You may think you are pretty good at networking already. Intentional networking, however, where you go out of your way to meet people you do not know, will make your investment of time and treasure worthwhile. You don't know what – and whom – you don't know. You must force yourself into situations where conversations get started. The benefit could be significant, or it could be a bust, but ask yourself, "Where else can I meet people in person – within home care and hospice – with whom I would never otherwise come into contact"

Motivation: Just being in an environment where learning opportunities are all around you creates energy you could never experience at home. As with intentional networking, you never know when or where the light will come on but racing through the exhibit hall gathering pens and chocolates and talking only with vendors you already know guarantees that light stays off. Being actively open to it will pay dividends.

Marketing or Concept Research: You have some ideas you have been mulling. Rather than going headlong into a new idea, you want to test it. Now, your employees and your friends in construction or retail tire stores cannot help much as they do not have the same experiences, the same business risks that you have. At a Healthcare-at-Home event such as the NAHC Conference, speak privately to non-competitor peers from other parts of the country. Create your own ad hoc focus groups to bounce your ideas around. Pay attention to their feedback. You can't buy better research – and remember, you have already paid for this type of research by being there anyway.

Pure Education: Conveniently gathered in one location for you, you will be able to see the latest technologies, clinical devices, business processes, and best practices. In the dozens of available classes you will hear about regulatory updates and clinical discoveries but on the exhibit floor the educational opportunities are just as valuable, from chats with M&A and operational consultants to software product demonstrations.

Smart entrepreneurs are always looking for the next best thing. They not only look ahead but, often, jump ahead of competitors, especially those competitors who are back home during the NAHC conference or, more likely, walking through the NAHC exhibit hall trying not to make eye contact with booth personnel. Take your unfair advantage to the bank.

Accidental Education: This is a biggie. This year, instead of seeing exhibit hall booth personnel as people who are "just trying to sell me something," see them as a massive group of teachers. No one can sell you anything until they teach you what it is, how it works, and how it can make or save you money. So listen and learn. Do not make the mistake of thinking that, just because you have "absolutely no intention" of buying from them, that they cannot teach you something.

Here is your trade show mantra: "I do not have to buy from any of them. I have to listen to all of them."

One of the exhibitors in which you thought you had absolutely no interest will surprise you. Possibly more than one. You never know when the next conversation is the one that sparks an idea that you would never have considered otherwise. Remember, you already invested in getting there, so really be there. It is worth the investment of time to listen…just in case.


This new emphasis should not take the joy away from being in a resort hotel. There will be plenty of time to relax. Plus, you never know when that one memorable conversation will happen over a chance meeting after hours. So have fun – as long as the fun does not make you unprepared to be at "work" the following morning.

About the Author
Roger McManus is the co-author with Tim Rowan of Entrepreneurial Insanity in the Home Care Business (Amazon) directed at home health and home care agency owners who are trapped as the hub of their business wheel. The book can be ordered at Roger can be contacted at

©2018 by Rowan Consulting Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in Tim Rowan's Home Care Technology Report. One copy may be printed for personal use; further reproduction by permission only.