Attending over 70 tradeshows a year, you might call us experts at navigating the crowded, busy world of conferences and conventions. We know how overwhelming it can be: so many booths, so many brochures, so many people approaching you with nifty branded tchotchkes. Because of this, we put together a list of our top 10 tips for surviving a tradeshow.
- Make a game plan. You’ll receive the exhibitor listing and floor plan in the weeks leading up to the show. Research vendors ahead of time and make a “must-see” and “want-to-see” list. Otherwise you might end up clogging foot traffic to pore over your conference map and decide where to go first.
- Set meetings 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.
- Be organized and carry a folder. 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 your back in your hotel room.
- Bring your own branded gear. Exhibitors aren’t the only ones who need exposure! Don’t forget that you’ll be mingling among colleagues, competitors, potential partners and maybe potential customers. Stay in sight and in mind by trading branded pens or notebooks to use during the conference and beyond.
- Pack smart and pack light. Some conference centers are better than others at anticipating and accommodating your needs. That said, plan ahead to make yourself comfortable. Some items we’d recommend: good walking shoes, a water bottle, a portable charger and clothes for both overly air conditioned and hot, muggy ballrooms (you never know which you’re going to get).
- Keep your eye on your company’s goal. 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 the objective? 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 have no relevance to you. The truth is, if you’re not interested in buying, the vendor shouldn’t invest their time with a big pitch anyway. And if a booth catches your eye but you don’t feel like engaging, simply say that you’re on a tight schedule but would like to take 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. The last thing you want is to get back work the next week, open a new email draft and suddenly forget the name of the person you spoke to and wanted to connect with.
- 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.
- Reflect and share your knowledge. We highly recommend you set up an internal meeting with your coworkers the week after you return from the tradeshow. Sharing what you saw, who you spoke to and your overall impressions while the experience is fresh helps your team get a sense what the next steps should be.
Conferences and conventions are the prime opportunity to network and exchange ideas. With these tips, you’ll be prepared all tradeshow season. We hope to see you soon at the NTCA Fall Conference!