The year was 1989, I had just wrapped up at PMA Fresh Summit in Reno, Nevada. The day after my return, I was sitting at my desk and the big one hit. The massive Loma Prieta earthquake shook my world at 5:04 p.m. on October 17th. It’s not something anyone could ever forget, and in the days that followed I learned the true value of preparation.
In the 200 or more conventions that I’ve attended since, I have seen that if you are adequately prepared you can do more than just survive, you can actually thrive during these things—conventions, that is.
In planning and preparing for conventions and trade shows, where does one begin? The end is a good starting point. Know your organizational and personal desired end-results, and work backwards from there. How are you, your boss, and your company going to measure return on investment (ROI)? What are the key performance indicators (KPI) for the show? If your company doesn’t have a formal strategy, get in the habit of developing your own.
And above all, keep a checklist. Strike that, keep a few checklists.
While the fine folks of our industry provide a rip-roaring time at these trade shows, they are still, at the core, business events. Planning begins well in advance, and these are just a few of the things you can do to make sure you have crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s to get the most ROI from attending.
- Make dinner reservations. Do this a few months in advance. People often make the reservations then fill them as they make appointments.
- Marketing materials. Make sure all branded material is current.
- Business cards—Bring plenty, so you don’t run out. By the way, bring business cards that you or someone can write on. The matte finish may not be as slick and shiny, but people can take notes on it!
- Identify target companies and/or people and set appointments, if possible.
- Bring tons of pens and a notepad. Always be ready to take notes.
Packing and Personal Preparation
While appearance is by no means the most important facet of your performance, it is the factor you have the most control over. Be prepared to look and feel your best to set the foundation for a successful event.
- Get a teeth cleaning and/or white strips. A dazzling smile is the best way to be memorable.
- Make sure clothes are pressed and shoes are polished. Get items updated, tailored, or dry-cleaned—and map out your outfits beforehand. You will thank me for the time it saves.
- Be well groomed. Get a haircut and make sure your nails are trimmed and clean.
- Pack at least one outfit for exercise—the endorphins will help with the long hours.
- Stock up on toiletries and accoutrements. Bring insoles for shoes and band-aids for blisters.
- Bring nutrition bars, vitamins, and first-aid. Don’t let stomach issues, a headache, or a hangover take you down.
- Check online for other time savers. For example, I can’t live without my garment folder, since I hate ironing. Bose® Noise Cancelling headphones are one of my best investments for traveling on planes!
You’ve made it to the tradeshow in one piece! Congratulations. Now, it’s “Game Time.”
- Stay hydrated, nourished, and healthy.
- Stay sharp, know when to stop—and when to sleep.
- Smile and be approachable.
- Know your elevator pitch. Have your three minute pitch and questions ready.
- Keep cards on hand.
- Give a solid handshake, keep eye contact, and actively listen.
- Always have a pen and notepad accessible.
- Hit your targets. Treat everyone courteously, but prioritize your targets.
- Keep moving, keep it brief.
- Be available. Don’t hide in your booth, don’t stare at your phone, don’t flock with coworkers, and don’t look bored.
- Keep cards safe and organized, take notes about who you’ve met to follow up.
- Be realistic in per-person objectives and time-frames.
- Set time at the end of each day to review, take notes, and organize and prioritize for the next day.
In conclusion, remember, you are always working at an event. Prepare to be your best self at all times, as chance meetings in elevators or lobbies can be the best. Be realistic with your goals, and make sure to set a follow up with your contacts. And, of course, have a great time!