Looking forward to your first trade show? Maybe you're not exactly new to the experience, but you're looking for some pointers on getting the most out of it. Either way, you can consider these 10 tips a solid primer on the subject. Let's dive in.
1. Have Goals in Mind
Trade shows aren't just a way to pass the time — they can often open doors and foster partnerships you wouldn't have found otherwise. But deciding what you want to accomplish beforehand can help you budget your time once you're “on the ground.”
What problems did you come here hoping to find the answers to? How much face time have you had with potential vendors, or how many people have you signed up for free trials of your software? It can be easy to get distracted with the spectacle, but you can stay grounded by setting your priorities beforehand.
2. If There's an App, Use It
More often than not, exhibitors and visitors will have access to a dedicated event app some time before the doors actually open. This gives you a way to study up on the venue and the layout beforehand and sometimes even engage in scheduling and communicating with other attendees right from the app itself. See what kind of functionality you have at your disposal for making your visit as smooth and packed full of opportunities as possible.
3. Know What You Need and How Have It Delivered
As an exhibitor, there are lots of things you can plan for and some things you can't. If you've studied the venue beforehand, you can take at least one potential worry off your plate by considering everything you'll need to build your trade show presence, including the essentials, such as:
- Audio and visual equipment
- Screens or projectors
- Custom lighting
- Tablets or other devices for demonstration purposes
From there, it's a matter of knowing your options for transporting your equipment to the venue or another location so it's ready and waiting for you by the time you arrive.
4. Choose Your Companions Wisely
Believe it or not, trade shows can be a good addition to a talent management strategy. It makes sense to bring company veterans and core leadership with you to trade shows and conferences, but consider also taking those less-seasoned few who show exceptional potential, or interest, or hopefully both, in what you do. Given the number of industries dealing with labor shortages right now, it's never too early to help generate enthusiasm for your field and inspire the younger generations to stick around for the longer haul.
5. Dress Appropriately
The word “appropriately” means different things to different people — but for us, it means “tastefully,” “confidently” and “practically.” You're going to this trade show to represent your company with style and confidence, to put your best foot forward and discover opportunities, and to do all of the above reasonably comfortably. Consider your footwear carefully, because you're going to spend long hours in whichever shoes you make your bed in. And give new footwear a few weeks to break in through normal use before you wear them to the event. Stiff shoes are as deadly as holey ones.
Last but not least, take your company “uniform” into consideration. Again, you're here representing a brand — so think about how your branding can express itself in your and your team's choice of apparel.
6. Leave Some Room in Your Suitcase
What happens at trade shows doesn't remotely stay at trade shows. If this is your first one, you might be about to make a beginner's mistake, which is to pack your bags for the trip without planning for the pamphlets and literature, plus the free notebooks, frisbees, can cozies, keychains, tote bags and the other stuff you're going to be bringing home with you. Some of it represents future business partnerships. Some of it's just neat. Either way, you need to get it back home again — and that means planning in advance to take on extra cargo.
7. Know Your Pitch Inside and Out
If you have a goal in mind for what you want to get out of this experience, then you also need to know how to communicate about that goal, and your company, and what you're looking for, oftentimes in just the span of a single first impression. This is the dreaded and famous “elevator pitch” — and it's your friend in those moments where time is more precious than usual. It also takes a bard's discipline to not come across as too rote and rehearsed while doing this, so take that into consideration as well. You don't need to hire private dramaturgical mentoring, but knowing what you want to say and how best to say it will go a long way.
8. Make Accommodations as Early as You Can
Hopefully this doesn't need to be said, but you should begin nailing down your travel and lodging plans as far in advance as possible. The last thing you need is for your plans to go off the rails because there's no room at the inn.
The organizers of your event may have deals with local motels and hotels to offer discounted rates. Whether or not that's the case, check out your options as soon as you commit to attending the show and have a plan for getting from your accomodations to the event venue. The walking directions might make it sound like a breezy stroll now, but picture doing the same thing in reverse after a day on your feet.
9. Know How You'll Act on the Information You've Gathered
Even before the trade show is over, you should have the gears turning on how you're going to prioritize your follow-ups and make use of the intel you've hopefully acquired. The people you've met and are hoping to do business with are juggling clients and customers of their own, so beat some of that flurry of activity by reaching out sooner rather than later.
10. Enjoy Yourself, but Remember Why You're There
There's absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying yourself while you're away at a trade show. We didn't coin the phrase, but think of the show as a kind of “workation” that's half networking, half enterprise planning and half exploring an unfamiliar city. Yes — we're aware that's three halves.
The truth is, trade shows are a lot of fun no matter what you're there to do. It might sound like a strange balance, but it's definitely possible to explore the event and set some priorities beforehand, manage your time while you're there, and still go with the flow and not take yourself too seriously along the way.