Trade Shows

How to make them worth your time (and $$)


Nearly every major industry (and some new niches you’ve never heard of) hosts at least one show each year. Some are huge affairs located in sprawling venues, others are smaller ones held in hotel sites. Costs to attend range from outrageously expensive, to affordable, and some are even free. But regardless of size or cost, one thing you will have to monitor carefully, is your time. This article will help you navigate the tradeshow arena and show you how to make them worth the investment of your time.


Why attend a trade show?

There is no place else where, in a day or two, you can learn about industry trends and its vendors, gain competitor insights, make key industry contacts, network with peers or promote your products or services and further solidify relationships with current customers. With so many to choose from, there is guaranteed to be a trade show to satisfy your budget, your business goals, or obtain the information/education that you need. The links at your right will lead you to a gold mine! But chose carefully because time costs you in hours away from your business activities.


Tips on how to get the most out of your time


Determine your budget before you attend the show. Want a good deal? Some shows give you a free pass to the floor if you register early. Some shows have free keynotes and seminar sessions. Check this out online before you commit to attending. And if your budget is really tight, but you are dieing to get into a show that has no free passes, contact the organizers and volunteer to help in exchange for free admission.


Determine your goals, create a plan of attack. Select the seminars you want to attend (and if needed, register for them), what networking events you are interested in, and write down what your overall goals are for this show. Having a plan will not only save you time, but make the experience more enjoyable.


What to wear is important. Since you will be doing a lot of walking, be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Check your coat when you arrive. You will be amazed at how heavy a coat can get over the course of a day! Dress in comfortable yet business style attire. You never know who you might meet. It could be your next big client and you want to make a good “business” impression. Wear a jacket with pockets to collect business cards. Keep your cards in one pocket to hand out and store cards given to you in the other pocket.


First things first:

When you arrive, get a copy of the show program and turn to the floor plan. Locate your seminar rooms, the restrooms, and food concessions.


Start your day by walking the entire floor. This might sound like a tiring job, but your goal here is to note down on the floor plan, booths you wish to return to later. Take it from an expert, if you just stroll along, stopping to talk to just anyone, you will waste time. As you circle booth locations on the floor plan indicate if they are for obtaining industry information, competitor reconnaissance to do, or networking.


While on the show floor:

If a reporter approaches you, be prepared to give them a good quote for their story (this does happen, reporters from trade magazines, local news stations, and from the producer of the show circulate on the floor to get opinions, ask about attendee backgrounds, and discuss current media news events).


Want to give out more information on your business than just a business card? Use postcards. Unlike a heavy brochure, postcards are light and easy to carry. They are also very inexpensive to print.


Bring three times as many business cards as you think you will need.


Special tips on Networking


Speak to as many people as you can while waiting in buffet or bathroom lines. You never know who will turn out to be a great contact.


Talk to people who sit next to you at seminars and keynotes. Ask good questions at these presentations, you’ll get noticed and people will come up to you to start a conversation afterwards.


Make the most of networking, but don’t spread yourself too thin. Don’t try to gather as many business cards as you can. You’re better off really connecting with five to 10 people that are quality leads.


Make your strategy to stroll slowly by the booths and look for conversation openings. Try to walk the floor during slower times, so you’re not competing with their potential customers. Open with something you have in common with their particular industry or hometown and engage in a casual chat. Then share a nugget or two about your clients, and mention what you do. You can tell pretty quickly if they don't want to be bothered, if so then exit gracefully. Sometimes casual openings often turn into longer conversations. 


The most important tip


Have some fun! Each trade show I attend it’s either gathering free magazines before I leave to read later, or looking for free chocolate treats, or attending a free seminar on a topic that seems way out in left field for me. Also on the theme of fun, once you locate trade shows, why not attend one just for the fun of it? Don’t laugh! I attend 2 each year that are free, simply because they are fun. PhotoPlus fills the Javits Center in NYC with vendors from every area of the photography industry. It’s my chance as a hobbyist to learn about new products, technology, see some great photo exhibits and listen to the masters discuss their work. The other show is the Japanese Restaurant show, where Japanese food of every category is there for the tasting. And a whole room last year was devoted to Sake tasting and Sake seminars! I got a thorough free education on the history, production, and proper serving of Sake! No business networking at these, only gathering of information for my own interest. (The former anyone can attend, the latter I just presented myself as a writer – truth – and no problem)


Post Show Wrap up

Once you get home or to your office or hotel room, sort through the business cards you’ve collected and note the ones that need immediate follow up. Go through all the “stuff” you have in those bags and toss away the useless things. Then kick back and relax. Eat one of those chocolates, read a magazine, look through the seminar notes. It’s been an exhausting but productive day – your time well spent!


But remember, that as soon as possible your should do your follow up tasks. A trade show is only as good as the business it generates, or the information you can apply. So don’t stash that stack of business cards in a to-do-later file. Call, e-mail or send a handwritten note as soon as you return, at most within the first week after the show. Don’t file the brochures about products, technology or vendors without listing what you will do with them in the future. And if a seminar had cost you not only time but money, try to apply what you’ve learned before you forget it!


Planning to exhibit? Afraid of the impact on your budget? Trade shows don’t have to break the bank. Let a pro give you the scoop on what marketing materials you really need. Call 908-241-5874 for a complimentary 30 minute needs analysis.
                                                                               c 2009 Leona M Seufert





These 2 sites are all you need to find shows in any industry, ANYWHERE! Plus articles and advice, and you can sign up for newsletters too.


The “Ultimate Trade Show Directory”


Searchable directory of trade shows in US and around the world. Informative articles and more. Need to sign up (free) to access trade show information


“Largest database of Business Events”


Another way to locate shows. If you are thinking about being an exhibitor, this site also has an extensive database of venues and articles on exhibiting.