ATA-MCE: A First-Time Attendee’s Perspective

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It’s never “business as usual” when you travel across the country. Attending the American Trucking Associations’ (ATA) Management Conference and Expo (MCE) is no exception. This year’s MCE in San Diego was my first time attending an ATA event, and a week later I am still thinking about what I gained, both personally and for my business, as a result.

Attending a large trade show can be a big investment, especially for smaller companies out there. I thought a short piece outlining what I thought of each aspect of the MCE might help others, especially first-time attendees, determine if the conference is right for them.

Keith and Scott at the Stay Metrics Booth

In short, I think there is considerable value in MCE for anyone in the transportation industry, but let’s work through some of the things that stood out for me to help you find that value when you attend.

First-Timers Stick Together

The first event I attended at MCE after setting up our company’s booth was the first-time attendee and Lead ATA reception. This informal gathering brought together both people like me who had never attended an MCE before and others who were participating in the ATA’s leadership development program. The combination made a lot of sense to me because the Lead ATA attendees could help us first-timers get our bearing early in the MCE experience.

Those who gathered at this reception were uniquely open to conversation and willing to spend time sharing their perspectives. As an avid listener and believer in the power of stories, this experience was the perfect way to start the conference. I had the opportunity to meet people from across the country but who all shared my experience of being a “newbie” at ATA events.

Many of these initial conversations developed into more substantial discussions and networking throughout the week. Seeing a familiar face from the reception later made it much easier to find a common point to connect.

Committee Meetings Are (Surprisingly) Interesting

The very word “committee” brings on visions of dry, monotone soliloquies listened to for hours in uncomfortable chairs, but I found at ATA-MCE, nothing could be further from the truth.

Safety Sammy presentation from the image committee meeting at ATA-MCE 2019.

A highlight for me was the image committee meeting. This group is behind the Trucking Moves America Forward campaign. Although I am a marketer and keep an eye on a lot of the pulse of the industry, even I found out about new and exciting initiatives that I had not heard of previously. The meeting’s tone was hopeful and excited. It left me ready to see how our company could get the Road Team Captains out to speak in our community about trucking.

Other meetings brought similar insights and the chance to hear from ATA leaders about the most important topics all of us deal with each day. It might be tempting to skip these meetings when you attend MCE, but you’ll be missing out on a lot of the substance of the conference if you do.

Networking Is Really Where It’s At

Despite the high quality of all the formal programming, the most value from MCE came from all the chances to network with others in our industry. In the day-to-day workings of a business, it’s easy to become siloed—to only see your customers and your product. At MCE, you have a chance to speak with others working in the industry who face different challenges and, consequently, develop diverse solutions. These conversations help break you out of any ruts you might be facing in your market, and there’s a good chance your experience is doing the same for someone else.

ATA President Chris Spears said it best: “We ARE in this together.” This is as true for transportation industry vendors as it is for carriers. The more we can learn from one another, the more we all benefit.

So my top recommendation to anyone attending MCE for the first time is this: go to as many receptions (formal and informal), networking events, luncheons, and banquets as possible. Talk to as many people as possible. Stretch yourself.

Trust me, I am strongly on the introverted side of the scale. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it.