tradeshow tips

Navigating the Complicated Waters of a Trade Show

Posted by Stacey Papp

If you've ever been to a music festival, county/state fair or street festival, you know that a crowd of people all gathered in one place for the same reason creates a palpable energy in the air. You feel like you're among friends, fellow travelers, kindred spirits – people who, although they may not all live in the same area, all chose to be the same place at the same time to share a collective experience. 

Conversely, large gatherings like this can make you feel like every human there is an awful person – indeed, that all of humanity is awful – or that the idea of a large gathering of people sounds fine in theory but in practice is terrible, that no one knows how to walk or say “excuse me” or respect your personal space, and that maybe it would be nice to move to the middle of nowhere and live off the land like a Doomsday Prepper.

If you've ever been to a trade show, then you have probably felt all of the above feelings. If you haven't, well, you should prepare yourself before you tackle one.  

Here's a round-up of what to know before, during and after you attend a trade show:

  • Set goals. These shows ain't cheap. Why are you there? Figure out what you want to accomplish, whether that's meeting new vendors, networking, education or seeing new products.
  • Do your research. Get familiar with the show website and book/guide (available online). This lists information like times and descriptions of educational sessions, exhibit hall times, and exhibitors' booth numbers and locations, as well as short write-ups on the companies exhibiting. 
  • Have a plan. Microsoft Excel works well for this – you can create a schedule of time blocks and pencil in your must-see booths and educational sessions (including location, name and session number). Print the exhibit hall/floor map. You can highlight the booths you want to hit (and even color-code them in order of importance, if you like).
  • Buy comfortable shoes. Rubber-soled shoes and/or some kind of cushiony insert will be your lifesaver as you walk the floor – trust us, your Fitbit will be logging plenty of steps. (Pro tip: Some exhibitors have extra padding under their booth carpet, so when talking to them, step off the show carpet and onto their plushy rug.) 
  • Bring a lot of business cards. You'll be doing plenty of networking – don't be the one who “left them at the office.” If you need other materials like sales sheets, etc., make sure they're the first thing in your suitcase. You can buy toothpaste anywhere if you forget that, but you don't want to be stuck without important business materials.

  • Use social media. Lots of trade shows use a hashtag (those are words with a # in front of them, like what the kids use these days instead of real words), and you can follow it on Twitter for up-to-the-minute info on what's happening or who's reporting on what – e.g., if your show's hashtag is #FleetShow16, just search for that in the Twitter search bar. Some shows give out prizes for people who tag the show on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, so it's also a way to have fun.
  • Seek out your brethren. The majority of people who attend shows are people from companies like yours. As you network, think of them as friends and allies, and they can help support your business in the future – possibly even with leads. 
  • Eat lunch early or late. Everyone is going to lunch at noon – whether that's 400 people at a local show, or 40,000 people at a huge convention – and hall/hotel outlets and local eateries are going to be slammed. Plan accordingly unless you like waiting in line.
  • Take breaks. You're going to be busy – there is no doubt about it – but make sure to plan five or 10 minutes every few hours to sit down and drink some water. 

  • Follow up. If there were any interesting companies you wanted to hear more about away from the hustle and bustle, now's the time to send that email or pick up the phone.
  • Go back to the show website. Shows will often post recording of sessions (including the ones you missed, or slept too late to catch) and other follow-up info.
  • Debrief yourself and your coworkers. What did you learn? What new trends or hot new products are coming down the pipeline? What should your company do in light of this new knowledge?

Attending a trade show involves the same whirlwind of activity and the same overpriced bottles of water you'd see at a county fair or music fest, but with the right preparation, you'll have the tools to go in and nail it. 

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Before you hit the show circuit, check out our blog about networking tips straight from your moneymakers…your vehicles.