So you've signed up for a trade show, you've got your tickets and your hotel room, and now you need to figure out how best to spend your time. Should you stroll the exhibitor floor? Should you pay to have your own booth? Should you attend the panels and educational sessions? Or should you sign up for one-on-one appointments?
It depends. If it's your first time going to a show, go as an attendee instead of an exhibitor to make sure that this is actually a convention that will help your business and that's worth investing in a booth. For instance, PopUP CleanUP cleans up after events, but our primary target client puts on branding activations, outdoor festivals, concerts, sporting events, and galas/awards shows. We don't tend to get as many corporate gigs because many of those occur in hotels which have their own, union staff. So attending a trade show geared at tourism and meeting planners isn't really our bread and butter. We also don't tend to service many weddings, which tend to be smaller scale than what we service and more intimate.
Before going, check the schedule and see if there are any keynotes or lectures given by people you want to learn from or meet and do a deep dive into the trade show floor to see if any potential clients or affiliate vendors are hosting booths. Brutal prioritization will help you get the most out of your show, as will reaching out ahead of time if you know someone you'd like to network with or do business with will be there.
If networking is terrifying, panels can help jumpstart conversations with people afterwards, and scheduled one-on-one meetings can help position you for introductions where walking up cold to someone may want to send you screaming into the daylight.
If you are naturally funny and convivial and your magnetic personality draws people to you across the room, then hosting a booth with games or using that space as a platform for your one-person show seems like a no-brainer. If you are selling products, host your products. If you have a service, figure out a clever way to demonstrate the necessity of your service.
For most trade shows, breaking up your time into a good mix of panels, networking meetings and time spent on the trade show floor is a good way to benefit from the various opportunities to meet people and learn new things. It's also a good way to modulate your time spent in extroversion versus introversion.
And most importantly, bring lots of business cards and wear comfortable shoes. You're going to be on your feet most of the time and those are long days!