Editor's Note: The following article has been provided as primer for those attending the Inside Self-Storage Expo to be held at the Rio Suite Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Feb. 2-4.
Some people view it as a vacation. Others think of it as an information-gathering expedition. Then there are those who approach it as an opportunity to network with their professional peers. But however you look at it, attending a tradeshow or conference takes planning and coordination. There are airline and hotel reservations to be made, rental cars to consider--not to mention making sure the office is sound enough to be left unattended. But the serious business takes place after stepping foot on the show floor. The following information can help you make the most of the experience.
An Organized Plan of Attack
If the budget affords sending some of your employees to an industry tradeshow, advanced planning is key. As an attendee, don't head out to a show without a plan of attack to maximize your time. First, collect the following items:
- A sturdy notebook, preferably with a pocket folder to hold handout material
- A copy of the vendor list and seminar schedule
- A daily calendar on which to mark your personal schedule
- A stack of your business cards to hand out
- A comfortable pair of shoes
- A list of questions to have answered or information you'd like to gather.
When the show information arrives, take a look at the seminars being offered. Use them as an opportunity to either update your training or initiate any new staff who might be attending the show. You'd be amazed at the variety, so select carefully. If there are some that cannot be missed, be sure to pencil them into your calendar. Times where the particular topics do not interest or apply to you can be used to review notes, browse the show floor, make phone calls, etc.
Don't feel bashful about exiting a seminar if it becomes obvious that it won't be of use to you--most conference speakers expect some disruption. Sit in and take notes on one or several seminars, and be sure to obtain the handout materials if a full workbook isn't provided by the sponsoring organization.
If you miss a seminar or won't be able to attend, you may have another resource: Some organizations retain a professional to tape-record the sessions and provide copies to attendees at a reasonable fee. Oftentimes, those speaking at tradeshows are also exhibitors as well. This will provide you an additional opportunity to ask questions or set up an appointment or correspondence. A speaker may also present more than once, so be sure to check the schedule.
Don't overlook roundtable discussions. These are your opportunity, not only to speak one-on-one with speakers and experts, but with your industry colleagues as well. Information at these sessions tends to be more specific, and those sitting in on the discussions will all offer their own expertise or experience. These make fantastic networking opportunities.
Tradeshows and conferences offer a unique and excellent opportunity for networking with both vendors and other facility owners/managers. Even if official social functions are not planned, expect to mingle and make contacts. Some of the best information at a conference is gleaned from the experiences of other attendees.
Find out if any of your business or personal acquaintances are attending the show. Make plans to meet for breakfast or lunch. Check the show agenda for pre-planned cocktail receptions, as well as hospitality suites and individual vendor events. These are all perfect opportunities to network, make new friends, meet new business contacts and quiz vendors in a more relaxed setting. Vendors are working at all times, so ask them questions whenever possible. They may be more relaxed at dinner and more open to discussion, but remember: Save the price haggling for later.
The Tradeshow Floor--Going It Alone
Before leaving the show, take a look at the vendors who will be exhibiting. Are there any who absolutely must be visited? Mark them on your calendar and, if time permits, contact them before the show and schedule an appointment with a sales representative. This way, time is not wasted at the booth, and personal time with the company is ensured.
Once at the show, make use of time efficiently by making two rounds of the floor. First, walk the aisles and get familiar with the vendors and their locations. Carry your notebook and a pen, and make references to those products that beg further investigation. Get acquainted with the whereabouts of vendors with whom you have pre-arranged meetings. And keep an open eye for exhibitors who may not have been on your list.
Now sit and rest. Depending upon the size of the show, this first sweep could have taken quite a while. Those comfortable shoes are coming in handy right about now. Get something to drink or grab lunch. Take a look over your notes--what questions do you have for your vendors? What information do you need about their products? Take a few moments to write these down. While in the booth, surrounded by other attendees vying for the representative's attention, it's easy to loose your train of thought.
Now return to the show floor for your second pass. If time permits, break this up into two days. Refer to your "hit list." Ask questions, take notes, and obtain brochures, literature and business cards to look over at a later time. Keep an open mind--while these people are at the show to sell, they're also there to help make your business successful.
The Team Approach
More and more companies are taking the team approach to tradeshows. This affords a more thorough approach to both the seminars and the exhibition hall. With a team of two or more attendees, planning may play a more important role. Each person will need a notebook, day planner and conference schedule.
Before attending seminars, decide who will sit in each one and what information is being sought. In a pre-show meeting, discuss what questions should be asked. Create a list. This approach will allow more leisurely notetaking and less seminar hopping.
The pre-show meeting should also address who will visit which vendors. This way, more time can be spent at each booth. Information from each of your attendees can be shared after the show. Make sure that those talking with specific vendors are familiar enough with the product or service to ask intelligent questions, whether they be about locks, buildings, doors, etc. This makes the decision-making process easier in the long run.
The Final Touch
Now that you--and possibly your team members--have spoken to vendors, networked with peers and attended seminars, you may think the show is over. Not so fast. If the booths are still open, take this final opportunity to get questions answered in person. Look over the material you've collected and your notes. Is there anything missing? Any information or product you'd like to investigate further? Now is your chance.
When the show is over, the coordination of materials comes into play. A post-show meeting is essential. Share contacts and information with other members of your office or tradeshow team. Follow up on any correspondence you might have arranged at the show, send out thank-you notes and tie up any loose ends.
Finally, a tradeshow or conference may be 90 percent business, but don't neglect to have any fun. Attend outings or events planned by the show sponsor or vendors. Take advantage of these opportunities to create long-lasting contacts in the industry. It will make the trip more memorable, and will make future shows something to look forward to.