As exhibitors, we’re always busy behind the scenes prepping our booth, setting meetings, and getting the word out. But, as an attendee, you can also benefit from having a solid game plan in place before the show. Here are our top tips for attending a trade show:
SET A GOAL AND STRATEGY
Before you attend any event, know why you’re doing it. You probably had to answer this question before you decided to register but make sure to revisit it. Why did you choose this particular show to attend? What problems are you hoping to solve for your business? Knowing what you need will help you take advantage of show specials while staying within budget.
Once you have your pain points in mind, take a look at the exhibitor list as soon as it’s available to see which companies offer solutions you need. Jot down the top 5 or 10 vendors that you absolutely must make time for. Some trade shows will even put the floor map online ahead of time, allowing you to literally map out your plan.
If the trade show you’re attending offers a dedicated app, be sure to download it as soon as it’s available. Apps typically offer scheduling capabilities and maps as well as a database of the vendors attending. Some even allow you to connect and communicate within the app.
BALANCE YOUR TIME
There are really three ways to spend time at a tradeshow: seeking out vendors on your list, attending seminars and info sessions, or wandering to see what you discover. It’s a good idea to make time for all three, but know which one you’re most interested in. Is your main goal to see what knowledge speakers have to offer? Or, are you more interested in finding new vendors on the floor?
Either way, start with your speakers. Identify your must-see info sessions or speakers and write them into your schedule first. Then, build out from there.
Next, make a plan of attack for reaching all of the vendors on the list you made. Insider tip: if you want to have the booth’s full attention, try to hit it on the second day. The first tends to be hectic and if you wait until the end, you risk missing the vendors – some pack up and leave early.
Knocking out the info sessions and your most important vendors first gives you leeway to wander the floor and discover new things. Leave time to stumble upon something unexpected. As Restaurant Associates’ Ed Brown puts it, “I spend a half day completely undistracted by what I see and go according to a tight schedule. Second half of the day, I wander the floor and hope to trip over something I was NOT looking for.”
Also, don’t forget to schedule in some R&R. It may seem simple but it’s easy to forget that you need three meals and time to sit down throughout the day. Check out what food offerings are available ahead of time so you know if you need to leave the trade show to eat. When you first arrive, take note of where the bathrooms are, if they have rest areas or benches around, and the easiest ways to get in and out.
SET UP MEETINGS
If you already know exactly who you’d like to talk to, it’s a good idea to set up one-on-one meetings with them. Trade shows are loud and full of distractions. Exhibitors typically have time blocked out for meetings and demos while they’re in town for the show so reach out to a few on your list and schedule some face time. It’s easier to see who is a fit for you with a few minutes away from the crowds.
SAVE ROOM FOR EXISTING CONNECTIONS
Most people attend trade shows in search of something new. But, it’s a good idea to visit some vendors you already know. Reconnect and see what new projects they’re working on. This gives you the opportunity to verify they’re still the best fit for your business and builds a relationship by connecting face to face periodically.
Jeff Rosenthal, Executive Vice President at Levy Restaurants likes to reach out to people he knows ahead of time, even if he’s not sure they have a product he needs. He says, “I like to have a destination and reach out ahead of time. I know I enjoy that connection and a place to go. I really enjoy seeing people I know and reconnecting. If they happen to have a product or service for me to look at, all the better.”
Yes, you’re most likely there for business purposes. But social events are excellent places to network. You can meet other people working in your industry and collect recommendations from them of who to seek out at the trade show during the day. Sometimes guest speakers will also attend the social events of a show, which gives you the opportunity to gain insight from them you wouldn’t have in a large lecture.
This may seem silly, but don’t forget to have fun. Try to treat trade shows as a “workation” – you’re there to expand your experience and contribute to your business but you also get to spend a few days away from the office/bar/restaurant. Explore a new city and make some friend while you’re at it.