Even in a Digital World, Attending Trade Shows Makes Business Sense
It's fall trade show season. Are you heading to a show? Things can get hectic with so many vendors, speakers, sessions and social activities. Doing a little legwork before and during the show will help you get the most out of the experience. Here’s what you should focus on:
Before the Show
Set Your Goals
There are likely hundreds of exhibitors and potentially thousands of visitors — too much to see and too many people to connect with in just a few days. So understanding your goals up front is the key to a successful show. Why are you attending this show? What do you hope to accomplish? Checking out your competitors’ products? Getting face time with decision makers? Meeting with existing customers? Once you understand your goals, you can plan a strategy.
Research the Event
Start with the event website. Explore the agenda and determine which sessions, speakers, and networking events are relevant. Examine the list of sponsors. This 40,000 foot view will allow you to understand as much as you can so you can fill out your winning strategy.
Develop a List of Attendees
If your company is exhibiting at the show you should have access to the official attendee list provided by the event organizer. If not, you can do a little sleuthing on your own by researching companies that have attended the conference in the past. Check the event website for information on last year's show. Most conference organizers provide summaries, photos and sometimes sponsor information. Once you identify a company you're interested in, take a look at their social feed. It will likely confirm whether they’re attending this year, and may even give you specific names.
Make Appointments in Advance
Once you’ve identified the decision makers you’d like to meet, schedule appointments, whether during exhibit hall hours or in the evening, time typically devoted to social and networking activities.
Plan Your Approach
Determine how much time you want to spend at the show. Schedule time to visit “must see” booths first and don’t worry if your schedule slips a little in the event you find one of these booths particularly compelling. Also, remember you’re not just looking at booths so be sure to allot time for breakout sessions, keynotes and those all-important meetings with decision makers.
At the Show
Walk the Hall
Before you start visiting specific booths, walk through the entire exhibit hall to get a lay of the land. Pay attention to how companies — especially your competitors — are promoting themselves. It may give you discussion points for your later meetings with decision makers.
Business at trade shows extends well after the exhibit hall closes. So while it may be tempting after a long day — or a long Vegas night prior — to blow off a networking event or pre-dinner get together, resist the urge. Summon the stamina of an endurance athlete in the final leg of a race. A promising opportunity takes just one connection to present itself — an opportunity you’ll miss if you’re napping in your room
Download the event’s app on your mobile device. You’ll have the show agenda and the list of exhibitors at your fingertips, as well as a way to connect with other attendees. That’s key for setting up additional meetings on the fly.
Use your social reach to let folks know you’re at the show and looking to network. Before the show share on LinkedIn. I know that advice is painfully obvious but it’s amazing to me how many people don’t bother to let their business network know they’re going to be attending a show and would like to meet up. And then, at the show itself, post updates about that incredible keynote speaker or some insight you gained. Use whatever platform is most relevant to your audience.
While you are operating with a strategic plan, be flexible enough to accommodate an intriguing opportunity that may present itself during the day or after hours. Serendipity rules at trade shows! You never know when a great opportunity to connect with someone will present itself.
After the Show
You’re finally home, bags unpacked. But, you’re not finished. Now is the time to capitalize on all the legwork you did at the show. That means following up with new contacts before the show is a distant memory.
The bottom line? Don't wing your next show. Preparation is time and money well spent, and the payoff can be strong and lasting relationships that will help you build your business or strengthen your career.
*This blog was adapted from a piece that ran in March 2017.