It’s tempting to view a trade show trip as time out of the office to play, especially since many conferences are in vacation destinations like Las Vegas or Orlando. Yet with proper preparation, attending a trade show can be some of the most valuable work time you spend. We’ve previously covered the more practical aspects of conference preparation, but preparing your strategy for the trip is just as important as knowing what to pack.
Know Why You Are Attending
First up in your strategic planning is to decide exactly why you are going to attend the event. You need to set goals about what you would like to accomplish at the conference. Depending on the event, there are many possible goals you could have, including:
- Networking. Trade shows are great places to cement current contacts and make new ones. Call it “seeing friends” or call it networking, but spending time with people at trade shows can be very productive.
- Research. Before making a purchase or starting a new project, there may be information you need to collect.
- Purchase. Vendor halls at trade shows are filled with companies offering products and services, often at special discounts.
- Education. Most trade shows have specialized education programs for attendees that can be hard to duplicate through other sources.
You almost certainly will have more than one goal for your trip, so then you will need to take a second step. Examine your goals and establish priorities by deciding their order of importance. This is necessary because most conferences and trade shows are very busy and there are too many activities to be able to see and do everything.
Know Who & What Will Be There
The next step is to find out who’s attending and also find out about the exhibitors and the education programs. Poll your contacts on your social networks, email key business contacts, and go over the conference program thoroughly. Make notes for yourself about all the people, vendors and education programs that fit appropriately with your goals. You should finish with at least a list of appointments to make, booths to visit, and sessions to attend.
Make Your Plan
The final step is to assemble your plan. For this you’ll need your calendar. Start by blocking out the times for any scheduled events such as classes or keynotes that fit your goals. Then everything else can be worked around those inflexible items.
Next, if one of your goals is to network, don’t leave it to chance that you will see people important to you. Work your way through your list of contacts that you would like to see, using phone or email to arrange a meeting if possible.
If you need to spend time in a vendor hall researching or making a purchase, try to schedule appointments so that your time isn’t too fragmented. Schedule yourself a nice block for research or shopping. And try not to over-schedule. Leave yourself a little open time to be spontaneous for something like a last-minute dinner with a new contact.
Making reservations is just half the planning for a smart trade show attendee. Taking time to plan and strategize before a trade show trip can help make the time and money spent on the trip worth your while.
What steps do you take to prepare for a trade show or conference?