As a shy person, the thought of talking to vendors at trade shows can be overwhelming. I have a hard time talking to people when I am not knowledgeable about the subject matter. While I like attending trade shows, and I find it fun to see what is going on in the field of optometry and collect free swag, I struggle to set myself apart, have real conversations with people and talk about logistics.
As a student, I’m not about to open a product line, deal directly with a lens manufacturer or seek out an EMR system. While it is nice to see everything that is going on in the field of optometry at Vision Expo, it is hard for me to really take advantage of it and grasp it as a student. Luckily, at Vision Expo I had the opportunity of taking a student education course geared towards practice management. During the class the group of students were broken down into small groups and provided a task that a small business owner was likely to face. My group had to determine which lab we wanted to use to process all of our lens orders. We were given a few hours to wander around the halls of vision expo and then we returned and presented our results. Upon talking to vendors I was able to think about what features I found important to have and what I thought was purely sales pitch.
I think that it is important to have an understanding of what you are really looking to gain from the companies and to be able to talk to different companies and tease out which one will work best with you individually to meet these goals. The features that my group determined to be most important were a wide range of products, a fast turnaround time, high quality and a strong commitment to the field of optometry. Upon identifying these values and talking to various vendors as a group we were able to make a decision on which company to use.
Overall, I am really glad that I chose to spend some of my time at Vision Expo participating in the student education course. In doing so, I was able to enhance my communication skills with vendors, as well as learn a lot more about the differences between vendors and weigh what values I felt were important. As optometry students I think that it is not enough to simply attend trade shows, but instead you have to actually participate in them. I think that it is difficult to do this without actually having a business to reference or a financial incentive to motivate you. By participating, I was in a setting that was low pressure and low stress, yet provided me with an experience to see the gaps in my knowledge, and learn how to effectively communicate with vendors.
By the end of the afternoon I was no longer the shy girl who was hesitant to talk to vendors due to inexperience, but instead the inquisitive young student unafraid to spend my time at Vision Expo interviewing companies and learning about what innovations they had to bring to the optometric market.