User group meetings: Trade show, conference, motivational seminar, and party, all in one

What should you look for before you go, and what should you expect when you get there? Here are seven recommendations to keep in mind, and one more just for fun.


Most meetings have product demonstration areas and displays from other companies.
We generally think of user groups as being a fall activity, but they really happen all year‘round. If you work in process industries, should you be twisting your boss’ arm to let you go?

One of the benefits (?) of being in the industrial press corps is that we have the opportunity to attend a variety of industry user groups, probably more than most civilians would get to. If you’re thinking about attending, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • You will hear the opinion of one company. Period. If you like that company, and that’s what you want to hear, you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t go with the thought that you will come away with balanced opinions.

  • End users are involved, at least to some extent. All user groups have end users on their steering committees. Some vendors use them more extensively than others. Look at the companies on the steering committee and see if your industry specialty is represented. That can predict how much relevant material you will find on the technical program.Customer presenters relate real-life experiences at the plant level.

  • See who is doing the presentations. The more end users presenting, the better, usually. In some cases, the presenter is really from the host company, which can dilute the view of the actual user. This is hard to predict from the program, so there may be no way to tell before you go. One way to tell is to see if the user representative is presenting solo or is always accompanied by someone from the host.

  • Review the program carefully. Some companies make their user groups very specialized around process or discrete manufacturing. Others that have a wide variety of products tend to lump everything together in one event. If that’s the case, you may not have much choice if you want to follow a particular subject track.

  • Spend some time trying to network with other users in your industry. Go ahead and ask the host upfront who is attending from like companies and competitors. You may not get an answer, but it never hurts to ask. Talking to other end users is the only way to get differing opinions.And no user group is complet without a party.

  • Go armed with questions. If you attend, don’t be shy about trying to pin down technical experts from the company. They are there to help you, and you should take advantage of it. Bear in mind that you are competing for their attention, so raise your hand often.

  • Go ready to tell your host what you do and don’t like about the product line. Think about it ahead of time and bring a list. Technical experts aren’t there just to answer questions. Express your opinion.

  • You can eat yourself silly. User groups are rarely short on food at any time of the day. Hosts don’t bring the ethanol out until the day is done. They know better.

Going to one of these meetings is expensive in admission cost, travel cost, and lost work time. Make sure you get your money’s worth.

To find a list of dates for annual user group meetings, search your preferred vendor’s Website or click the events box towards the bottom of the Control Engineering homepage .

—Peter Welander, process industries editor, ,
Process & Advanced Control Monthly
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