Trade shows can be difficult to navigate for both vendors and attendees. Some trade shows are so large in size that attendees can easily spends hours and hours wandering around aimlessly.
Vendors face difficulties as well – namely, trying to stand out in a sea of similar faces and businesses.
So are trade shows actually worth your time and effort? The answer is a resounding yes, but only if you put a good deal of thought and planning into your efforts, and create a plan for success.
In other words, you can’t just go in without a game plan and expect to succeed. The amount of success you generate is directly correlated to the amount of time and effort you put in to your endeavor.
Start preparing early
The first thing you should do is visit the trade show’s website. Here you’ll find important information like the hours, the vendors that will be attending, and a floor map of the trade-show floor.
Research who will be attending the show and who the most important vendors are for you to see. Then see if they will take an appointment so that you have time set aside for your most important contacts.
If you plan on making multiple appointments, try to leave a gap between them so that you have some built-in time should one of the appointments run longer than expected, or if you need to hoof it a fair distance across the trade-show floor to your next appointment.
Once you’ve formulated a plan for who you want to see, download a trade-show map of vendors and where they’ll be set up. Now you can make a plan of the route you want to take and potentially avoid a lot of backtracking and wasted time.
Schedule your time wisely
Now that you know who you want to see and where they’ll be, you can schedule out your day accordingly. Don’t forget to insert time for bathroom breaks, snack breaks, and lunch.
You’ll also want to schedule time at the end of the day to jot down your thoughts and notes while they’re fresh in your mind, as well as time to mingle with vendors and other attendees over drinks, which is a great way to network and get to know your vendor even better.
Don’t forget events and classes
Most trade shows will offer events, classes, and workshops that you can sign up for and attend. Not only are these beneficial in that you can learn a lot, but they’re also another great way to network.
Look ahead of time and determine if there are any you want to attend, and then don’t forget to put them in your schedule as well.
Besides your most important, must-talk-to vendors, don’t get overly tied to your schedule or what you want to see and do. Be prepared to adapt and change direction if a great opportunity arises, like a can’t-miss event or an impromptu meeting with a potential client. Sometimes the best opportunities come when you least expect them.
Remember to follow up
Don’t let all of your hard work and time be for nothing. Follow up with the contacts you’ve made and the vendors you’ve dealt with. But don’t wait too long to do so, as both your memory and their memory can fade quickly, especially with all of the interactions you’ve both had over the courst of a long day or two. Wait a day or so to follow up, but no longer than that.
What to take
You’ll want to carry a few items with you to help ensure both your comfort and your success. Take a notebook and pen for jotting down quick notes and important information. Don’t forget a stack of business cards to hand out.
It can be a long, grueling day, so staying hydrated and nourished is important. Pack a refillable water bottle as well as a few protein-packed snacks that can easily fit in a pocket – jerky, almonds, etc.
Trade shows almost always entail a ton of walking, so it’s a good idea to pack an extra change of shoes to help alleviate back and foot pain.
A couple of reminders
Bring your own branded products with your company name and logo on them. You’ll be scooping up a lot of trade-show swag, but it’s nice to have a few items — from shirts or hats to pens or keychains — to give out yourself to important contacts. Just remember not to go too heavy on the product because you’re going to be the one lugging it around the show.
And last, but not least — be positive, friendly, and smile. Trade shows can be stressful and busy for all involved, and it’s easy to fall into a bad pattern of a stern, frowning face. Instead, remember to smile, say hello to people, and generally give off a friendly demeanor, which will go a long way to creating a positive, successful environment for everyone.