here’s a reason the saying goes, “ready, aim, fire” and not “fire, aim, ready”; though the business world sometimes tries to test this theory. Like most things in life, planning and preparation will almost always set you up for success, yielding the best results possible.
Attending over 70 trade shows a year and holding a rather large User Conference ourselves, you might call us experts at navigating the hectic, busy world of conferences and conventions. We know how overwhelming it can be: so many booths, so many brochures, and so many people approaching you with nifty branded tchotchkes. With one of the largest rural telecom trade shows (NTCA's RTIME) approaching us, we put together a list of our top tips for how to maximize the efficiency and impact of attending a trade show.
- Research. A few weeks before the event starts, do some research on the landscape you’re about to enter. Who’s going to be there? How are the facilities? What kind of resources will you have on-site? How are you going to get around? What events are occurring throughout the day and into the night?
- Make a game plan. What is your goal? What do you hope to accomplish? Be laser focused. You’ll need goals to measure if your attendance was a success. With the exhibitor listing and floor plan in hand, research vendors ahead of time and make a “must-see” and “want-to-see” list. Otherwise, you’ll end up like that family at Disney World that learned about FastPass+ standing for hours in line for their first ride, while the families who prepared continue to walk right past them in the other lane. (If you’re going to Disney soon and aren’t aware, please google FastPass+ and thank me later.)
- Set your schedules ahead of time. Most of the vendors want to set appointments ahead of time. This way you don’t need to wait around for exhibitors to wrap up conversation with other attendees, and you can secure their undivided attention for a fixed amount of time. Pre-register for any outings or events, as needed. Are you planning on taking clients or prospects out to dinner? Make your reservations well in advance. Be optimistic…you can cancel them later if needed.
- Be organized. Postcards. Business cards. One-pagers. You will be given more paper than you will ever want to carry. Make it easy on yourself and bring a folder, bag, or binder for the sole purpose of collecting paper from the booths. This way, you keep your hands free and leave the sorting of it all for when you’re back in your hotel room.
- It’s all about the brand. Your brand and your company’s brand. Exhibitors aren’t the only ones who need exposure! Don’t forget that you’ll be mingling with colleagues, competitors, potential partners, and hopefully potential customers. Stay in sight and in mind by trading branded pens or notebooks to use during the conference and beyond.
- Keep your eye on the target. It’s easy to get flustered when you walk into the exhibition hall and see dozens upon dozens of booths. Just remember why you came to this show – your company spent a lot of money to get you there, so what is it they need? Be stingy with your time and attention, because you can always circle back after you got the information you came for.
- Don’t feel shy about by-passing booths. We’re giving you permission to politely excuse yourself and walk away from vendors who don’t interest you. The truth is, if you’re not interested in buying, the vendor shouldn’t invest their time with a big pitch anyway. If a booth catches your eye and you don’t feel like engaging, simply explain that you’re on a tight schedule but would like some literature with you to look over later.
- Socialize, network, and take notes. You may run into some industry leaders during panels and discussions. Use this time to socialize and exchange business cards. Afterward, make sure you write down any names, companies, email addresses, and other notes related to your day. This can be done using a CRM, Google Docs, Smartsheet, or any other technology. The last thing you want is to get back to work the next week, open a new email draft, and suddenly forget the name of the person you spoke to and wanted to engage.
- Don’t be afraid to give out your contact information. Trust us on this. It will make your life easier. If you forget to bring your handy-dandy folder (see #3), you can avoid carrying stacks of paper by asking exhibitors to email the information instead. This also opens the possibility for the vendor to send you promotions, sales, and related information once you get home. You can always unsubscribe from their emails if you decide they’re not for you.
- Next steps. After you return, document your findings immediately (we recommend within 2 business days). What are your overall thoughts on the show? Did you accomplish your objectives? If not, what is your action plan to close that gap? What are the next step action items, who owns them, and when are they due?
If you planned your attack and executed on your plan, you will be confident in knowing that you used your time wisely and made the most out of your trade show experience.
Got your interest piqued? CONTACT US to find out more about surefire trade show tactics, or let us know which trade shows you have found most valuable – or would like us to attend!