The Art of Navigating Trade Shows: A Guide for Attendees to Survive & Thrive

Nov 23, 2017

Attending trade shows can be good for business but getting the most out of the experience can be tricky. The more time you dedicate to planning, the more successful the show will be for your bottom line.

construction trade show in exhibition hall
Photo credit: Charles & Hudson

While there is no doubt that attending trade shows is good for business, getting the most out of the experience can be tricky. Today’s shows are massive and can be overwhelming. So much to do – so little time. The Buildings Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is a case in point. 5 shows under one roof. 3 Days. 30,000+ attendees. 1,600 exhibitors. 500 Speakers. 350 seminars and demonstrations. Where do you start?

Plan Ahead

Showing up to a trade show of this size without a strategy would be a waste of time and money. Before anything else, you need to define your goals. What do you and your company hope to achieve? Are you there to generate sales, build new relationships, research the competition, or learn about the latest trends and innovations? None of your objectives will be realized without a clear and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) plan to identify what you can do and who you should meet to achieve your goals. The more time you dedicate to planning, the more successful the show will be for your bottom line.

Your daily schedule needs to be flexible, but can be managed beforehand by going through the show website and figuring out what’s what and who’s where:

Speakers/Seminars: Review all the programming schedules that the show has to offer and register for specific speakers, seminars, workshops and roundtables that suit your timetable, needs and budget. The Buildings Show, for example, has a complete listing of every program broken down into specific shows and categories. Once these are selected, you will have a better idea about the time you have left in a day to visit exhibitors.

Exhibitors: Show websites also feature an exhibitor directory by category to make it easier to learn which companies focus on your business needs and where their booths are located. Plot it out on the downloadable show map to get a better idea about where you need to go. (Watch for the mobile app to be released before the show as well for any updates.) You can also connect with specific reps beforehand to set an appointment during the show.

Free Time: There really is no such thing as ‘free’ time at a trade show, but it’s a great idea to leave a buffer in your schedule to wander the show and discover, and stop to chat with people you meet along the way.

Show Time

Armed with your schedule, business cards, and any branded gear, hit the show floor and be proactive in your mission. Don’t feel guilty about not stopping at every booth along the way; if there’s no business reason to connect, browsing can be saved for another time.

As you work the room, keep your schedule in mind. Collect information that is of value to your company and ask specific questions of exhibitors. Small talk is great, but with other attendees on a similar mission, vendors simply don’t have the time either. And, if the booth staff doesn’t have answers to your questions, then ask them who to contact after the show.

It’s also a great idea to look for additional networking opportunities. Exhibitors may have hospitality suites or receptions, and you never know who you may meet at seminars or other events. Introduce yourself at every opportunity and have your elevator pitch ready. Make sure to exchange business cards so you can follow up after the show. Also, use social media to promote the fact that you’re at the show and any positive connections that you make. Vendors appreciate the publicity and that can pay off post-show.

Once you’ve checked off your ‘must-meet’ list of exhibitors and attended any seminars, take some time to wander. (Don’t forget to take time to eat and stay hydrated!) Keep your eyes open for potential business connections. Look for new companies, products, and programs as well as any services that could benefit your business.

Post Show

Networking is exhausting. Long hours with no down time at shows will wipe you out so if you’re heading back for day 2 (or longer), get some rest. But, before lights out, go through all the information collected from the day to make sure it aligns with your original objectives for attending the show. If you missed someone or something, put that connection at the top of your list for the next day.

Directly after the trade show is a time to reflect on what you learned and who you met. All the information gathered will go to waste if you don’t dedicate time to go through it all again. Share it with co-workers and create a follow-up plan to connect with any leads to ensure that attending the show was a worthwhile investment. 

Will you be at the Buildings Show this week? We'd love to connect with you.

Drop us a line and let's get together for coffee.

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