While I have logged hundreds, maybe thousands of miles, through a wide range of show and convention pavilions, I not only learned about the subjects of the shows, but how to physically survive and thrive.
(Sample map from Cosmoprof 2009 - All Rights Reserved).
If you're a trade show veteran you probably already know the following tricks, but if you're not...consider the following tips:
1. Planning Is Essential - While it may be admirable to think you can visit all the booths and meet all the reps of all the companies showing their wares, it is probably not realistic. Especially when some trade shows, like Cosmoprof will have as many as 700+ exhibitors.
Before the show starts go to the website and make a list of all the booths you might wish to visit. Assign a number from 1 to 100 to the booths you feel are most important to visit.
Make a back-up list of booths you would like to visit if you have time left over from your priority list. Keep the back-up list separate.
2. Map It - Once you have your list of preferred booths to visit, if an online planner is available from the convention organizers consider filling in a planner to help you organize even further. If a show map is also available print it out and tag the locations of your target booths so you can plan a route that flows efficiently.
One of the biggest mistakes new convention visitors make is to randomly roam through the conventions halls. Not only is this physically taxing but often an unplanned walking route will result in being unable to maximize the number of booths that can be visited.
3. Do Your Research - Once you have targeted your key booths and vendors, do additional research. I have found when I contact vendors before the shows they are often willing to chat with me about their products over the phone, refer me to the appropriate local reps or send me information. Sometimes a quick phone call or email will eliminate a potential booth to visit because I discover there isn't a mutual business interest.
4. Make An Advance Appointments - Once you have fine-tuned your wish list of vendors you really want to meet with, try to arrange a set appointment time with them before you travel to the convention. Not all vendors are willing to commit to a specific show day and time but if they are taking several reps to the show they may be happy to set up an advance meet time with you. It never hurts to ask.
5. Travel with associates when appropriate - Sometimes if you have a desire or need to visit the majority of the vendors at the show you will have more success if you take a business associate with you. When you travel with more than yourself, you can divide your wish list into equal parts. If two or more of your business associates are visiting the show at the same time you can double or triple the number of vendors you visit.
6. Wear great shoes - Since your feet will be put to the test it's important you wear shoes that support your feet or they may actually give out on you before the convention is over. Some attendees will wear business/casual clothing so they can slip on a pair of walking shoes to make sure they avoid the development of dreaded corns/bunions or other problems.
7. Dress in layers - Some convention areas are very cool, others are hot and may depend on the number of people who attend the shows. When possible dress in layers with a removable jacket or sweater you can take off or put on depending on the ongoing temperatures of the convention halls.
8. Get plenty of rest - Visiting a large convention is like putting in a long workout. It's important to get plenty of sleep, eat well and consider amping up your vitamins and daily supplements. If you are traveling from out of town be sure to stay in a lodging that offers you quiet and comfort so you can relax and recharge at the end of each day.
9. Be Prepared - Make sure you have plenty of business cards, pens and a good notebook so you can take good notes about each booth you visited and what you discussed. Believe it or not, many vendors will not follow up with you if you don't show an serious interest or leave detailed contact information. It's up to you to gather any information that is important for creating future business relationships.
10. Attend Classes, Seminars & Demos - Most conventions also offer classes or related demos. While you might be tempted to try and attend all the meetings and seminars, use the same classification system you did for visiting the booths. Keep in mind that if you are busy attending lots of classes, you will not have as much time to visit the vendors and the booths. Try to find a good balance.
11. Timing Is Everything - Even though a trade fair might be scheduled to last three or four days, some vendors may leave the show early. If the vendor does not feel they are getting the type of new business connections they desire or they run out of steam, they may pack up early and leave. Be sure you visit all of your most important vendors at the beginning of the show.
All conventions develop an ebb and flow of energy and crowd flow. Try to figure out the very best times to visit the booths versus eating or resting. If you can maximize the best times to stop by the booths you will have more success and avoid wearing yourself out.
12. Make Helpful Notes - After just a few hours at a large convention you will discover you have a growing stack of business cards and brochures. Whenever possible stop and make little notes on each card of a person you met so that you can remember them when you get back home.
13. Pack It and Ship It - One helpful trick, especially if you known far enough in advance, is to pack up your clothes and send them to your hotel via UPS. That eliminates the need to check or deal with your luggage as you travel. Another trick is to take all of your convention materials to the closest Pack It/Ship It location or ask your hotel if they can do that for you and then ship everything home.
14. Samples - Many shows will not offer products for sale. This is the case with Cosmoprof. However, many vendors will bring samples or demonstrator models to the show for their booths. On the last day of the show you may have opportunities to be offered samples or various products brought to the show because the vendors are loaded down and can't or don't want to pack them back up to take home.
It is considered in bad taste to ask vendors for samples or demonstration items unless you are seriously interested in the product or the company. Also, it is considered inappropriate to visit a show just to nab free tshirts or coffee cups. Always act with the highest level of professionalism and courtesy.
15. Cut The Vendors Some Slack - If you think attending a convention is hard work, just imagine what the vendors to through to ship the various products to demo and lug huge boxes of brochures and related sales materials. Keep in mind that many will have to stand on their feet all day long. While you can find a place to sit down when you get tired, they often don't have the same option.
Many years ago when I was working for a software company I had to represent them at their many conventions around the United States. It was the hardest part of my job. Not only did I have to deal with swollen achy feet, I had to continue to smile all day long.
If you encounter a booth rep who seems wilted or worse for wear, give them a break and put yourself in their place.
16. Tip Generously For Good Service - Convention visitors don't always realize that the little cafes, coffee shops and related food bars positioned throughout the convention hall are staffed by hard working people who appreciate tips for providing good service to the many hordes of visitors who pass through their establishments. Take time to say thank you and when appropriate provide a generous tip.
Please follow me on Twitter at: http://Twitter.com/HairBoutique. I look forward to meeting new people from all walks of Twitter and learning from their Tweets.