by Melanie Downey
Attending trade shows and conferences is a great way to keep up with industry trends and issues, to network, and to strengthen or start relationships. But they can also be hectic and stressful. Luckily, a little advance planning will make for a smoother experience and get you better results.
1. Figure out what your goals are for attending the show – both personal goals and goals for your company. This will keep you on track, and will help you make decisions, especially when you start getting tired (and you will get tired!)
2. Read the trade show materials, and do a little research on the vendors you’re interested in, and any networking events you want to attend. Make a list of who you want to see, and what you want to learn from them. This advance planning will give you a chance to get questions ready so you don’t waste valuable time on the floor.
3. Join the event’s social media pages and find out if they have special hashtags. Then, post! Let everyone know you’re excited to be going, what you’re looking forward to (name names if there’s someone specific you really want to see or hear), comment on other posts, and answer other’s questions. By pre-networking before the event, you’ll be one step closer to that introduction, and can even arrange to quickly meet people when you’re there.
4. If you’re a vendor, check out the event media list, and schedule interviews with bloggers and the media.
5. Check out the map of the trade show floor so you can figure out the most efficient way to plan your route.
6. Schedule meetings ahead of time. Some of the vendors will only see people by appointment, depending on what their business is, or how much staff they have, so if you want to meet with them, you’ll need to contact them in advance of the show. Be sure to leave plenty of time between meetings in case you run late, and make sure you leave yourself time to walk the trade show floor.
7. Develop a system to keep track of who you meet, contact info, products, and any notes you’ll want to follow up on after the show. A table works well, as does creating a special twitter list.
20 Tips to Master your Conference Experience
8. If you’re staying at a hotel, you’ll want to stay at the convention center hotel so you’re not wasting time with travel, and you can make a quick trip back to you room if you need to get materials, or drop some off (you’ll probably collect a lot). Book in advance so you can get the discounted rate.
9. Bring Promotional Gear: You’ll want to bring any branded stuff you have that might attract attention – a shirt, hat, conference bag, as well as promotional gifts to give away (pens, or anything else that has your logo on it), and plenty of business cards.
10. Pack: Make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes, and you can thank me later for that one. An extra duffel bag for all of the marketing materials you’ll gather is a good idea, too.
11. Get an updated show directory and calendar. Sometimes vendors or show managers make last minute changes, and adjust your plan accordingly.
12. Put your name tag on your right shoulder so it can easily be seen when shaking hands.
13. Strike up conversations with other attendees (but don’t start by soliciting them!) They may have great insights about products you’re interested in, or might just be someone great to network with.
14. Be sure to gather information about what your competitors are up to. An easy way to ask is, “So, what are you working on?” If you get too technical, they may get cautious.
15. Connect with the show organizers and influencers – Let them know if you love the event or their presentation. If they need help, offer to volunteer (if you can). It can help to build a relationship, and can even turn into a future speaking opportunity.
16. Don’t forget to drink water!
17. Make note of trade show booths that worked well, for your future ideas file.
18. Be on the lookout for networking opportunities and introducing yourself to industry influencers.
19. Do your homework. When you get back to your room, review the vendors and influencers you met with, make note of ideas on how to work with them, or orders you want to make (most will offer Trade Show Specials).
20. Follow up with your contacts, send out LinkedIn or Facebook invites, and email or call with any promised information.
What do you think? Like these tips? Have any others to share? Let me know in the comments below.
I'm Melanie Downey, small business brand innovator and public relations expert. I like to teach and write about what I've learned in 20 years working in brand development, PR, and marketing. And when I'm not doing that, I cook, drive my kids around, hang out with my hairless dog, Penny, and practice playing my ukulele.