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Working ItGetting the most out of a tradeshow

January 1, 2000

6 Min Read
Working ItGetting the most out of a tradeshow

Working It

Getting the most out of a tradeshow

Editor'sNote: The following article has been provided as primer for those attending theInside 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-gatheringexpedition. Then there are those who approach it as an opportunity to network with theirprofessional peers. But however you look at it, attending a tradeshow or conference takesplanning and coordination. There are airline and hotel reservations to be made, rentalcars to consider--not to mention making sure the office is sound enough to be leftunattended. 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, advancedplanning is key. As an attendee, don't head out to a show without a plan of attack tomaximize 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.

Seminars

When the showinformation arrives, take a look at the seminars being offered. Use them as an opportunityto 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 bemissed, be sure to pencil them into your calendar. Times where the particular topics donot interest or apply to you can be used to review notes, browse the show floor, makephone calls, etc.

Don't feel bashful about exiting a seminar if it becomes obvious that it won't be ofuse to you--most conference speakers expect some disruption. Sit in and take notes on oneor several seminars, and be sure to obtain the handout materials if a full workbook isn'tprovided by the sponsoring organization.

If you miss aseminar or won't be able to attend, you may have another resource: Some organizationsretain a professional to tape-record the sessions and provide copies to attendees at areasonable fee. Oftentimes, those speaking at tradeshows are also exhibitors as well. Thiswill provide you an additional opportunity to ask questions or set up an appointment orcorrespondence. A speaker may also present more than once, so be sure to check theschedule.

Don't overlook roundtable discussions. These are your opportunity, not only to speakone-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 thediscussions will all offer their own expertise or experience. These make fantasticnetworking opportunities.

Rubbing Elbows

Tradeshows andconferences offer a unique and excellent opportunity for networking with both vendors andother facility owners/managers. Even if official social functions are not planned, expectto mingle and make contacts. Some of the best information at a conference is gleaned fromthe experiences of other attendees.

Find out if any of your business or personal acquaintances are attending the show. Makeplans to meet for breakfast or lunch. Check the show agenda for pre-planned cocktailreceptions, as well as hospitality suites and individual vendor events. These are allperfect opportunities to network, make new friends, meet new business contacts and quizvendors in a more relaxed setting. Vendors are working at all times, so ask them questionswhenever possible. They may be more relaxed at dinner and more open to discussion, butremember: 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 thereany 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. Thisway, 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 yournotebook 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 havetaken quite a while. Those comfortable shoes are coming in handy right about now. Getsomething to drink or grab lunch. Take a look over your notes--what questions do you havefor your vendors? What information do you need about their products? Take a few moments towrite these down. While in the booth, surrounded by other attendees vying for therepresentative'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 intotwo days. Refer to your "hit list." Ask questions, take notes, and obtainbrochures, literature and business cards to look over at a later time. Keep an openmind--while these people are at the show to sell, they're also there to help make yourbusiness successful.

The Team Approach

More and more companies are taking the team approach to tradeshows. This affords a morethorough approach to both the seminars and the exhibition hall. With a team of two or moreattendees, planning may play a more important role. Each person will need a notebook, dayplanner and conference schedule.

Before attending seminars, decide who will sit in each one and what information isbeing sought. In a pre-show meeting, discuss what questions should be asked. Create alist. 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, moretime can be spent at each booth. Information from each of your attendees can be sharedafter the show. Make sure that those talking with specific vendors are familiar enoughwith 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 thatyou--and possibly your team members--have spoken to vendors, networked with peers andattended seminars, you may think the show is over. Not so fast. If the booths are stillopen, take this final opportunity to get questions answered in person. Look over thematerial you've collected and your notes. Is there anything missing? Any information orproduct you'd like to investigate further? Now is your chance.

When the show is over, the coordination of materials comes into play. A post-showmeeting is essential. Share contacts and information with other members of your office ortradeshow team. Follow up on any correspondence you might have arranged at the show, sendout thank-you notes and tie up any loose ends.

Finally, a tradeshow or conference may be 90 percent business, but don't neglect tohave any fun. Attend outings or events planned by the show sponsor or vendors. Takeadvantage of these opportunities to create long-lasting contacts in the industry. It willmake the trip more memorable, and will make future shows something to look forward to.

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