Trade shows can be an excellent resource whether you are looking for something in particular or whether you just want to keep abreast of the latest in the industry. However, trade shows are getting more expensive, especially when adding in travel costs. To ensure that you get the most of your time when attending trade shows, follow some of these tips.

  • Know why you are attending. Before leaving for a show, determine what you want to find out while you are there, says Susan Friedmann of The Tradeshow Coach in Lake Placid, NY, and author of Meeting and Event Planning for Dummies. If you have a boss and you need to justify your reasons for going, then it will help to know what you want to get at the show, she says. In addition, make sure you clarify what your boss wants you to get at the show.

    “People are going to shows looking for solutions to problems/challenges that they might have at a workplace,” Friedmann says. “This is where the industry gets together. Anything and everything you want to know about your industry is going to be there on the show floor.”

  • Research companies and equipment before going to the show. Because time is limited, it's best to get as much information as you can before going to a show. Web sites are often the best resource. By doing the basic research beforehand, you can spend your time at a booth asking more in-depth questions.

    “The more prepared you are, the more you are going to get out of it,” Friedmann says.

  • Organize your exhibitor visit list. Sit down with the exhibitor list and map and plan which booths you want to visit, dividing your list into “must see” and “want to see” booths, says Friedmann. Plan your visits so that you are stopping at booths in a logical order rather than crisscrossing the exhibit floor. Then, decide how much time you can spend at each booth, allowing a little extra time for the unexpected.

  • Find a teammate. If someone else from your club is going to the show, get together with that person to coordinate your schedules, Friedmann says. There's no sense in each of you attending the same seminar or seeing the same manufacturer. If you coordinate each of your needs, you can help each other by asking questions for both parties or collecting information for each other.

  • Have a comparison sheet. If you are looking for new flooring for the weight room, you'll want to put together a form that allows you to quickly mark down answers from each flooring manufacturer so that you can make accurate comparisons.

  • Set appointments. To ensure that you are able to speak with certain exhibitors and certain people at the company, call ahead to set up an appointment at the show. If you want more undivided attention from a particular person at a particular booth, then time the appointment at a slower time, particularly if the person is the only one at the booth. Later in the day or during the last day of the show are historically slower times, Friedmann says.

    “The more prepared you are and the less you leave to chance, the better you are going to be able to maximize your time commitment,” Friedmann says.

  • Take care of yourself. Even though you may have limited time to do everything you want at the show, make sure to take breaks. Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated and watch your junk food intake, recommends Maura Schreier-Fleming, author of Real-World Selling for Out-of-This-World Results. Sugary snacks may be tempting, but a Power bar for energy would be better, she says. In addition, wear comfortable shoes (maybe even with insoles) and comfortable clothing.

  • Bring your own bag. Those plastic bags that some exhibitors hand out at shows may be better than nothing, but often they aren't as comfortable as a more substantial canvas bag or leather bag with a strap that can fit over your shoulder.

  • Book a nearby room. If you book early, you can often find lodging close enough to the convention center that you can run back to your room for a short nap, to change clothes before evening activities or just to sort through all the information that you've gathered, Friedmann says.

  • Be an early bird. By pre-registering for a conference and arriving at least 30 minutes early, you can avoid standing in the long lines that tend to accumulate at most shows.

  • Be prepared for changes. Because booth numbers change and seminar rooms are moved, consult the show directory when you first arrive and revise your plan accordingly, Friedman says.

  • Be selective in what you take. Just because an exhibitor offers you a brochure doesn't mean you have to take it. When offered something, ask yourself, “Why do I have to take this with me?” Friedman says. If it is not something you have to have right now, then request that the exhibitor mail it to you. That's also a test for the company to see if they are on the ball or not, says Friedmann.

    “If they can't send me a piece of literature that I requested, then what are they going to be like to do business with?” she says.

  • Network. You don't have to look much further than the receptions, hospitality suites and seminars for an opportunity to network. And it's an opportunity that too few people take advantage of, says Friedmann. Typically, someone going alone to these events can feel lonely in a room of strangers and leave early. Those who attend with co-workers tend to congregate with the people they know, but Friedmann says there is no point to that.

    “Your boss doesn't have to pay for you to travel across the country to talk to your own people,” she says. She suggests getting out of the “comfort zone” and approaching others at the events with a simple request for help, such as, “I am looking for new treadmills for my club. What kind of treadmills do you have in your club?”

    Make sure you bring plenty of business cards with you and pass them around and collect them from others.

  • Bring supplies to help organize the papers and business cards you will be collecting. Barbara Hemphill, author of Taming the Paper Tiger book series, suggests that you bring with you some file folders, a small stapler, a large envelope for expense receipts, stationery and a pad of Post-It Notes. You may also want to take a large envelope to mail collected items to your office from the show.

  • Label your files. Some of the papers and cards you collect will require action on your part. Place those items in a file marked “action” and note on the paper what action you must take before you place the paper into the folder, says Hemphill. If you want to get more specific, you can label your files “call,” “data entry,” “file,” “write” and “read.”

  • Keep receipts together in an envelope. Hemphill suggests going through your receipts at the end of each day when details are still fresh and note what the expense was for on each receipt. Keep receipts together in an envelope.

  • Write a summary. At the end of each session you attend, Hemphill suggests that you ask yourself what you will do differently because of attending this session. Make a list of what you have learned, changes you want to make and ideas that you want to take action on.

  • Friedmann suggests writing a report about the entire trip, something that some bosses require. If you take notes as you go along (perhaps in a notebook or by speaking into a tape recorder), then it should be easier to write a summary of what you need to do and what you learned that day, says Friedmann.

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