The Ultimate Guide to Attending and Surviving Your First Big Trade Show Conference
So, you want to go to a trade show conference? And, it’s not just any old mom and pop expo. We’re talking hundreds of booths, jam-packed sessions, half-a-week-long, nationally-attended conference and expo. The big one! Walking into that giant expo hall and opening keynote session for the first time can be daunting. So, here are some tips and tricks to get you through it unscathed.
Get the approval to go.
Attending conferences is a great way to network with people from all over the world, gain exposure for your company, improve your communication skills, obtain new leads and stay current in your field or industry. If these reasons aren’t enough to get the approval you need to book your trip, you can sometimes find a “convince your boss” section on the show’s website. Really, those exist! Still need a few more highlights? Hotel rooms are often discounted if you book early with the special show code! Learning and working in a different environment is good for the brain! You’ll return with great ideas and a competitive advantage! You’re worth the investment, make sure you prove it!
Begin getting comfortable with trade shows and conferences by attending less intimidating, smaller events first. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce, as they typically have an annual trade show. Or, just Google the phrase, “Small Business Expo” to find one in your area. Heck, stop by the Holiday Bazaar at a local church or community center. Try to get your feet wet with something small before flying across country to a national event.
Don’t forget to pre-register!
Remember – early is key. Register early using the early bird deal likely offered on the show’s website. This usually steep discount applies to those who register months or weeks in advance – so get to it! You may even score a free ticket for a colleague! Remember to arrive early too. Most shows open the “pre-registered” line to pick up your badge first thing in the morning on day 1 of the show – and sometimes even the day before. Avoid the crazy long lines and get there early! You’ll be glad you did.
Travel in advance if you can.
Especially if you (and your body) are not used to being on the road, you might want to arrive in town a day or two before the show begins. This will give you ample time to recover from any jet lag, do a dry run from your hotel room, and get a general lay of the land. Where do you pick up your badge? Which rooms are hosting your favorite sessions? Where are the bathrooms? Plus, who doesn’t love extra time to test out the local cuisine? Lots of conferences are up against a weekend so take advantage and travel on a Saturday or Sunday without having to take a vacation day.
Do a lap before committing to a location.
...to quote a fabulous 90’s movie. Once the show begins, walk around the room a bit before settling into your seat. Keynote sessions and networking meals typically don’t have assigned seating which means you’ll be one of hundreds of people looking for a place to crash for an hour or two. Look for badges that have ribbons like “speaker” or “presenter” – these are the guys and gals you want to talk to. On most show badges you’ll also find the attendee’s home city. She’s from Omaha? Maybe you’ll meet and start a great networking relationship with another corn husker. If all else fails, find a seat near the buffet or an open outlet to charge your phone!
Fill your swag bag!
When you pick up your badge you’ll receive an attendee tote bag with some literature you’ll never read and a cheap pen you’ll throw away. Even the bag is likely getting left in your hotel room. But, first, be sure to walk the show floor and collect the coolest giveaways from all the booths. Sure, they’ll scan your badge and probably email you after. But it’s worth the free Frisbee, keychain, or slap bracelet your kids will love. Especially, if you’re not interested in what a particular booth is offering, just be courteous and wait until the last day. Then, it’s fair game. The marketing team closing down the booth doesn’t want to ship everything home and you should be able to find plenty of leftovers.
ALWAYS show up for booth duty!
Last, but certainly not least, this one only applies to those who are attending from a company who is also exhibiting at the trade show. Listen, no one loves working the booth, especially during slow hours. We get it. But, your company is footing the bill for you to travel and attend the show, so the least you can do is actually show up for your scheduled hours. The event planner/marketing rep from your company lost a lot of blood, sweat, and tears planning your presence there. So, be sure to show up! Also keep in mind, often times, especially with smaller companies, the person doing all the planning is also the person booking your hotel and flights. If you make the mistake of skipping out on booth duty once, have fun flying in the back row, middle aisle and falling asleep next to a noisy elevator… FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! For more tips on getting the most out of exhibiting at a tradeshow, check out this article.
Go the distance.
Is she really quoting another 90’s movie? Yes. Attending your first big show shouldn’t end with your flight home. Make the most of it by keeping in touch with the folks you met there. Connect with them on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. Reach out to them via email letting them know you enjoyed meeting them and how you hope to work with them again in the future. You never know who might be your key to success, or might be there to save the day later on in your career. We suggest following up within a week, while your shared cocktails and trade secrets are fresh on their mind.
Cheers to a successful first big show!
For more event prospects, reference this article for a list of the top trade shows from 2016.