Tradeshows are big, tradeshows are loud, and I admit, I once got lost inside a tradeshow! These events can be sensory overload, migraine fuel, and exhausting. If it is your first time attending a tradeshow, there is a lot of pressure and anxiety about how to navigate it. You’re likely wondering: ‘who should I talk to?’, ‘how do I approach them?’, and ‘what am I really expected by my boss to be doing?’
It can be very scary for a tradeshow novice, especially under the watchful eyes of your boss. It can feel like a test. Not to worry though, TrainUp has a few veteran Tradeshow experts who have weighed-in with some solid advice. Just follow a few simple tips and you can survive, impress your boss, and take your first tradeshow experience to a whole new level of awesome!
The first thing to do, and this can be done a few days in advance to ease your nerves, is to formulate a plan. Do your homework! Look at the tradeshow floor map, often provided at check in, (but why procrastinate until that moment when you can usually find this on the event website, before even arriving at the event).
You should have an idea of the companies attending, learn about them and what they do. Try to find names of key people in those companies that will be there. Determine who you are interested in paying a visit to. Map your route, and make your list of which booths to stop at along the way. Define a goal for each of your stops, and make notes about the things you would like to discuss at each stop, so you have an overall game plan.
Secondly, when you begin your hunt on the floor for these key people, you will want to be prepared with lots of business cards. Even though you plan on name-dropping by referencing that key person at the booth, they may not be standing there at the time. They might have gotten up to a meeting of their own, visited the lunch area, etc.…nevertheless, you will encounter somebody standing there. You should give a business card to everyone you speak to, therefore you will need to bring enough. That brings me to my next major point, and warning against making a rookie mistake: There is nothing worse than running out of business cards mid-show! Your business cards should be ordered a few weeks before the show, so that they arrive in plenty of time before you go!
For a beginner, introducing yourself can seem like one of the hardest things, although it is actually very simple! Walk up to the booth you planned to go to, and find someone to talk to. Walk up, and say hello! Just don’t interrupt an existing conversation. This could mean some waiting, or perhaps another lap around the show floor before circling back to see if your person of interest is now free to speak to you. Be confident, and friendly. They are there to meet you just as much as you are there to meet them, it is after all potential business! Shake hands, tell them who you are, what you do, how you would like to work with them, and do not forget to hand them your business card!
Also, do not walk away without one of their business cards as well. You will want this to be able to follow up with them later. It is also a good idea to write on your card what you spoke about when you hand it to them, so that they also remember. They have likely spoken to 100 other people over the course of the day, so this will make yourself more memorable for them.
Speaking of remembering things, be sure to take notes about your meetings. Carry a notebook and pen with you wherever you go. You will need to have a reference as to what you discussed with each person. There are so many people that you will meet and speak to, taking notes can sometimes be the only way you are able to keep track and remember the conversations had and connections made.
While all of this is taking place, make sure you are wearing your name badge so that people can identify you. It can be loud at tradeshows, and if people can’t hear your name in conversation, they can redeem themselves by looking at your name badge.
While at a tradeshow, you should also be utilizing the tools of social media. Smart business people use twitter while at a tradeshow, to give relevant updates about where they are, what they are doing, and how to find them. It is good to check twitter to see what others around you are saying, and it can help you to find the people you are looking for. It will also alert you to networking events being held for show participants that you may wish to attend after the expo hours, these events are actually where more business conversations happen, as it is removed from the chaos of the main expo.
After-hour networking socials are incredibly helpful. These events can still be large, however a change of atmosphere, a little less noise, and a more laid-back ambiance can make meeting people a lot easier. It is a welcome break from the tradeshow floor, where bright lights, crowds, and tired feet can distract people from making meaningful business connections. Because it is often a smaller group of people, you will also encounter new people that you otherwise would not have found in the larger expo hall.
Just as important as networking events are lectures and seminars. Attend lectures by the keynote speakers. Not only can it be interesting and give you amazing business or life-altering advice, but it also provides you with a relevant ice breaker when talking to others at the show. You can open a conversation with “Did you attend the speaker this morning? Wasn’t it fantastic?” and there’s your in!
Lastly, in the weeks following the show, follow up with the people you spoke to. Call them, email them, reach out and tell them “hey, remember me? We started a great conversation at the show, let’s continue our talk…!”
There you have it, simple yes, but those are the vital few things to keep in mind at large business events. It’s easy to forget the basics while at an expo, however, follow these tips and the show will be a breeze. You will be busy, and exhausted, but at the end of 2-3 crazy expo days, you can go home and collapse into bed, resting easy knowing how you got the most out of the event that you could have. Don’t just survive the show, thrive at the show!
TrainUp fun fact:
Did you know?
The best place to set up your booth at a tradeshow is not at the front of the expo hall. It is not even at the back, where people believe they can catch people going back and forth to the provided lunch…that is actually a huge mistake. (Hungry people are on a mission for food, they are wearing hypothetical blinders, therefore their intention in that moment is not to stop at your booth, but to grab food and return quickly to their own booth to free up their colleagues holding down the fort so that they can go to get food as well). The sweetest spot to place your company’s booth is in fact the first crossroad they come to. They walk by the first few booths, up the vertical isle, and then encounter their first horizontal pathway. This presents a decision, ‘oh man, more choices as to which direction I must walk’, they say to themselves. And just like that, a pause. People hesitate here, accumulate here, and it is the best place to flag over an indecisive person to speak to you. How’s that for a knowledge bomb….boom!