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Tech Grove Webinar Preps MS&T Community for I/ITSEC
TOPICS & CATEGORIES
Three Team Orlando professionals who are experienced with the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), offered members of the modeling, simulation and training (MS&T) community a few tips to prepare for I/ITSEC 2023 during a webinar on Nov. 1.
Carol Ann Logue, Central Florida Tech Grove director, hosted “Tech Grove Connect – Making the Most of I/ITSEC 2023,” with Leslie Faircloth, deputy for small business with Naval Air Warfare Command Training Systems Division, and Daniel Ketchen, founder and principal of Technology Associates & Products, who is also a board member of the National Center for Simulation.
I/ITSEC, usually held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, shortly after Thanksgiving, represents the MS&T industry’s biggest annual event. High-ranking military and civilian government officials, C-suite industry executives, and senior academics attend I/ITSEC, where they routinely deliver keynote addresses or participate in panel discussions. Networking opportunities that can lead to future business, professional development and collaboration are numerous due to so many MS&T professionals concentrated in one place during I/ITSEC. That is, if one is prepared for those opportunities.
“I/ITSECs can be really engaging and interesting, but they can also be overwhelming, particularly if you’re not prepared,” Faircloth said. “First, be familiar with the agenda, which is on the website, and you should download the app. These are important tools… and the wi-fi at the conference may not be reliable with so many people using it, so don’t wait to download the app at the conference – do it before.”
Faircloth said that conference attendees should know their target audiences and that people should “do your homework” on government agencies with which they hope to do business. Important factors include knowing those agencies’ missions and what they buy, which can be learned at the agencies’ websites. Faircloth also recommended taking copious notes for follow-up purposes because of time limits that industry people can face on the exhibit floor when talking to government officials.
“For every hour you intend to spend on the exhibit floor, you should be spending one to three hours preparing,” Ketchen said, underscoring the importance of thorough preparation. “On the website, there are about 470 individual organizations that are exhibiting. There are 26 government booths, eight educational institutions, 10 association booths, and the rest – roughly 420-ish – are all industry. If you download the app, you can sort by category.”
Ketchen clarified that getting worthwhile conversations with other organizations’ representatives can sometimes require more than just a chance meeting on the exhibit floor. He advised researching and reaching out in advance to the specific people in an organization who would be the most appropriate audience to certain pitches, and then scheduling time at their booth.
“There could be a lot going at some of these booths, especially for the large primes… they’re really busy, and just because someone is available, these companies can have multiple divisions, business units and programs, and [the person you see] may not know anything about what you want to talk about,” Ketchen said. “Contact them in advance, and they can have the right person at the booth. [With a government agency,] you have to reach out, typically by contacting one of the administrators for the agency, and they will get you to the person who will get the right individuals to come to your booth – but [you should] know what you want to show them or talk about.”
The panel also addressed the time limitations in realistically “seeing everything” at the conference, agreed that it was practically impossible, and again emphasized targeted preparation.
“You can get a very shallow and superficial exposure to a lot of things – not everything – but it’s important that you know what you want to achieve at I/ITSEC, what your business strategy is, and what aligns with that,” Logue said. “Think of the core strategy from your company’s perspective. You can read about the exhibitors online and in the app and find out who they’re doing business with.”
Logue also recommended that attendees socialize in common areas beyond the exhibit floor, such as lobbies, bars, lunch spots and coffee shops in and around the convention center. Ketchen concurred with impromptu opportunities to develop relationships.
“As much as I preach about getting schedules in advance on the exhibit floor, there’s also value in just walking around and meeting people, especially smaller companies’ booths that may not have a lot of people in them – but you’ve got to prepare for that,” Ketchen said. “Your pitch can’t be general, such as, ‘we do VR, AR and XR.’ You should be able to say who you’ve done VR, AR and XR for, sample projects, what you do that’s different from everybody else, who you have on your team that nobody else has, as well as your ‘ask’ – the thing you’re trying to get.”
The panel emphasized that, despite the potential of establishing multiple relationships for future business opportunities, leaving I/ITSEC with an actual contract is an unrealistic expectation.
“What you’re trying to get is a second date,” Faircloth said. “[Getting] government contracts really is about forming relationships because there has to be that trust and a mutual understanding of bringing something to the table that your customer can use.”
Busy conference participants can meet well over 100 people at I/ITSEC, which occurs in between major holidays when many government officials, industry professionals and academics all tend to take vacation time. Due to the conference’s position on the calendar in the middle of the holiday season, follow-up is crucial to build on groundwork established at the conference.
“By the time January comes [that person you talked to] might not even remember you, so to act as a memory trigger, I created a form for our incubator clients,” Logue said. “Create whatever form you want, but fill it out as soon as you’re done talking to somebody, and getting a business card is helpful. When you write that follow-up email in January, you can bring up specific points of your conversation that jog your contact’s memory and that can make your follow-up very personal. I recommend writing right after I/ITSEC and at the beginning of the new year.”
Ketchen also encouraged attendees to visit association booths He described the professional associations as “force multipliers,” and explained that most were inexpensive to join, especially considering the return on investment.
When the conversation turned to getting the attention of government representatives prior to I/ITSEC and inviting them to meet during the conference, the panel generally recommended against reaching out via social media. Faircloth said the social media approach could be “hit and miss” because not all government officials are consistent users. She recommended starting with email and then following up with a phone call.
“A lot of government reps’ email can get pretty flooded this time of year,” Faircloth said. “Things can get overlooked due to sheer volume, so start inviting people now.”
However, Logue said that social media was effective in keeping up with I/ITSEC events, both inside and outside the conference venue. I/ITSEC has active accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. These channels can also be used to increase visibility on various exhibits, papers and other announcements through social media tagging.
Later in the webinar, the panel discussed the importance of exhibitors maximizing their time in the exhibit hall, to include time outside of official business hours and heaviest traffic. Ketchen related a story that demonstrated the importance of his “number one tip” in being prepared for I/ITSEC opportunities (especially for first-time exhibitors and small businesses), which was “stay open until they turn the lights off.”
“A few years, an hour before close on Thursday, [all the other industry reps] in my vicinity were breaking their booths down, but not us,” Ketchen said. “I looked down the aisle, and I see Brig. Gen. William Cole, then-PEO for U.S. Army Program Executive Office Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, walking my way with his assistant. With everyone else packing up, I introduced myself, and got him to my booth where he spent 20 minutes.”
Ketchen said Cole fully evaluated his products, advised Ketchen on which Army officials he should contact outside of Orlando, and “basically gave us a blueprint for success.” Ketchen emphasized that this opportunity would not have occurred if his team had been trying to leave as soon as possible.
A few more resources for I/ITSEC preparation the panel discussed included:
The list of exhibitors. Note: The exhibitor list is different from the overall conference attendee list, which is not released. Be advised that emails claiming to sell lists of I/ITSEC attendees are scams.
The Central Florida Tech Grove is a modeling and simulation collaboration space consisting of 6,400 physical square feet and unlimited virtual space. Its mission is to create opportunities for collaboration and innovation through a variety of events, programs and competitions for innovators, industry, academia and government to engage in addressing the needs of the military.
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