Almost everyone has been to some kind of event or trade show. Whether it’s a college recruiting day, a job fair or an industry trade show. Almost everyone has been to something like this. However, some people don’t seem to maximize their time and effort at them.

One thing that regularly surprises me is the response I get from people when I ask them what they expect to achieve at trade shows. Too many of them say things like … “Oh, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens”. Or … “My company is sending me and I guess they’ll tell me”.

To me this is surprising and just smacks of not being a good use of their time. And if they work for a company, one that is funding the trade show effort, it’s not a good use of their spend. Of course, everyone has the same amount of time available each day. It seems to me this time should be used as wisely as possible. This post is for people that want to maximize their time at trade shows.

Below are 8 Tips for Trade Show Success that I have honed with over 20 years of attending events. If you have additional tips and ideas please drop a comment below. Together we can get better. I look forward to hearing your tips for maximizing success at trade shows.

Note and your Opinion is Requested:
This post is for the attendees of events and trade shows. If there is enough interest in this topic I’ll write another post about the other side of an event — the sponsor side. Let me know in the comments if you want to see a post about sponsors and trade shows.

Finally, If you have never been to any kind of an event take the time to find one in your area and check it out. So, without further ado below are my Tips for Trade Shows.

8 Tips for Trade Show Success … And a few PRO TIPS too

1. Elevator Pitch

I think you need two Elevator Pitches. But before I get into that perhaps a bit of an explanation of what an elevator pitch is and why you should have one.

Elevator PitchThis is your chance to tell your story. You have 30 to 60 seconds to get your point across for the What, Why and How of your product or services.

Why have an elevator pitch? In my opinion, everyone in the company should know the elevator pitch. Everyone from the receptionist to the CEO should know why they are in business. If the receptionist and the CEO happen to be the same person then this is even more true.

I think two elevator pitches are required. One for the business and one for your role in the business. One builds from the other. The one for your company, depending upon the size of the company you work for, may come from corporate marketing and PR. The one for yourself can be what YOU DO for your company –or- depending on the event you are attending it might be more personal.

  • For Your business – know the why, what and the benefits your product or service bring to the table. Again, you have 30 to 60 seconds to get your point across. Use it wisely. Practice it. Perfect it.
  • For Yourself (or what you do for your business) – Again, you have less than a minute to get your point across. Use your time wisely and make sure you have a point, a message and a purpose for telling your story.
  • Need Help with an Elevator Pitch? Check out the Elevator Pitch Builder from Harvard Business School.

2. Business Cards

This sounds obvious, but BRING your business cards. If you don’t have any … get some. You can get 250 for free from companies like Vista Print and a several others. Do you REALLY need business cards? I say yes. I did an informal survey on a few social media channels and the resounding answer was that people still carry business cards and expect others to do so too.

  • PRO TIP – At a minimum make sure your contact information is on the card. There is nothing worse than wanting to follow up someone when they have made it almost impossible to get in touch with them.

3. Agenda – Know Before You Go!

Get your hands on the agenda before the event and map out the sessions you want to attend, need to attend and must attend. Determine what vendors you want to meet with and think about your first question to those vendors. Take the time upfront to maximize your time at the event. It will go much faster than you ever expected.

  • PRO TIP – Review the event map. Know where the sessions are that you want to attend. Know where the busses pick up and drop off. Know where the bathrooms are too. Having a mental map of the event will help you navigate the halls like a pro. You might even find a great little alcove to sneak away for some quiet time.

4. A Friend – Bring One or Make One

If you are going with other people you know — Great. If you are going solo take the time to chat people up at the coffee bar in the morning. Find a table at lunch where you can connect with other conference attendees. Ask them what sessions they have attended or plan on attending. Ask them what’s the best session they have attended. Ask them what has been their best takeaway so far. I’m not suggesting you interrogate them with 20 questions, but most people I’ve met at trade shows are happy to chat and share notes.

  • PRO TIP – Divide and Conquer. You SHOULD do this with colleagues to maximize your coverage of events (see tip #8). You can oftentimes do this with new found friends too. They too only have so many hours in the day. Just coordinate a time to sync up on sessions.

5. Meetings – Secure The Time Up Front

Whenever possible pre-setup meetings. A lot of events have made it very easy to setup and schedule meetings with people before the event even starts. This way once the event gets going you already have some of your most critical meetings on the docket. Take advantage of these scheduling tools . Once the event starts everyone’s dance cards start to fill up very quickly.

Another thing to consider is that a lot of speakers will put out requests for questions attendees would like to have addressed at the conference.

Social Channels are Open Too – A lot of speakers and the events themselves are plugged into social media channels before, during and after the event. If you have a question, a comment or a concern use these channels. They are available for your use and a lot of people ignore this option. So, the competition for time and a timely response is often quite low.

  • PRO TIP – Don’t get stressed out if someone you had scheduled a meeting with misses it. Maybe they didn’t do all the pre-planning you did and they got lost. Give them the benefit of the doubt and try to connect with them again.

A few more tips and tricks for visiting booths and post-event success

6. Be Honest

If you go by a booth and they chat you up. That’s good … the booth staff is doing their job. However, if you have no interest in what they are offering … tell them and move on. It gives both of you the option to move on and allows you to see what you came to see. Sure, you might miss a few gems occasionally, but not too often. Especially if you have a pre-event plan of action. If you think you might miss something, either plan for diversions like this or check in with your colleagues or new friends as a sanity check.

7. Follow up

If you made contacts at the event and especially if you made commitments … follow up with them. Do it promptly. While it’s still fresh in your mind and theirs.

  • PRO TIP – Follow Up Promptly. You would be surprised how many people (and especially companies) fail to follow up quickly … Or at all. This is a huge opportunity for those that take the time to take action and Follow Up!

8. Write a Trip Report

Even if you don’t plan on sharing it with anyone it’s a good way to summarize and codify your thinking. With a written report you will also be able to quickly go back to your notes determine whether you achieved what you wanted. Another benefit of a written report is to help remember and solidify the actions you committed to do (see tip #7). Finally, documenting the event will help you decide if you should attend again.

  • PRO TIP – Use Evernote or OneNote for your Trip Report. Then you can easily share it (if you want to) and you can combine other attendees into the same folder for future reference.
  • PRO TIP – write up your notes promptly while they are still fresh in your mind (see Tip #7)

Trade shows and events can be addictive. It’s easy to get caught up in the energy and excitement. This is a very good thing … especially when you have a plan of action mapped out ahead of time. That way when things get hectic you’ll have that little bit of inner peace because you know you put in the time beforehand.

Trade shows can be a great way to grow yourself, your business and share what you know.

There you have it. My Eight Tips for Trade Show Success.

What tips do you have? What has worked for you?


Jeff  is a veteran in the Enterprise Content Management industry. Over the past 20 years he has worked with customers and partners to design, develop and deploy solutions around the world. Jeff is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances at Winshuttle. He has worked for Microsoft, FileNet (IBM), K2, Captaris, Open Text, Kofax and Kodak. He speaks and blogs about ECM and the Intersection between Social, Mobile and Cloud Computing.