5 Steps to Maximize Attending a Trade Show or Conference

Do you attend trade shows or conferences? Many people go and have fun, or have an interesting time, but they don’t maximize the effect of their attendance. If you follow these five steps, it will help you to get more out of each conference or show you attend.

1) Do your homework ahead of time – for speakers, sessions, AND vendors

Typically, the show posts its agenda ahead of time online. If you’re like many people, you take a careful look at all the speakers, so you’re sure to attend the sessions that are most interesting or helpful. Do you do the same for the vendors that will be at the show? Often, these are more of a “second thought,” if they’re considered at all.

Taking a look at who is going to be at the show allows you to look for vendors you’re using, as well as new vendors. To maximize the relationship with your vendor, stop by the booth. Ask what’s new that you should know about. Find out if there’s something coming up soon that you should know. This is a great time to maximize your relationship with the vendor by requesting help or finding out best practices, time-saving tools, etc.

2) Let people in your industry know you’re attending so you can set up meetings at the show – be sure to use the show’s hashtags!

Savvy speakers do this all the time – sending out announcements via their social media channels (such as LinkedIn) – rounding up attendees for their sessions. You can too!

Announcing by email and social media that you’ll be attending a show or conference is a great way to maximize your time. You can set up meetings with clients or vendors who are attending, to catch up face-to-face. And you can meet peers for a meal or to attend a session together. Planning and acting well ahead of the show, so you meet everyone you can while you’re there, is the perfect way to maximize your time. 

3) Set expectations with your calendar – are you out of office? Answering calls?

Many people attend trade shows or conferences and end up doing two jobs at the same time: taking care of business back at the office AND trying to soak up what’s going on at the show. If you do this yourself you know how ineffective it can be.

Why waste your time and the organization’s resources by trying to do two jobs simultaneously? It means you won’t do either one well. Instead, follow these steps:

  • Be bold and put an “out of office” message up on your email.
  • Set the expectation ahead of time with your colleagues and clients that you’re not available except at certain times. And answer your emails during those times – perhaps before breakfast, mid-day, and in the evening.
  • Allow for an “emergency” message to come through if it’s needed. I tell people to put “URGENT” in the subject line of any email they send, in case it’s something that truly can’t wait until the three times I look at email and respond.

4) Write up a summary, including a “to do” list of next steps

While a conference can be invigorating and energizing, it can also be overwhelming. And getting back to work, with everything that’s piled up, waiting for you, can make it fizzle into distant memory quickly. If you don’t follow up right away, much of the positive impact can be lost.

I’ve always found it best to write up a summary of the show – the sessions I attended, the meetings I had, even the new products and services I learned about. Sending this to your boss can help to justify the spend of your attendance. In addition, it helps you to organize your thoughts around next steps. Once you’ve written these out, they become a handy “to do” list to add to the rest of your work when you get back to your desk. Be sure to add completion dates to your list, so you put them on your calendar and actually get them done!

5) Use your write up the following year, to justify the budget, so you can return

If you need to get your travel and conference attendance approved, using your write-up of the show from the previous year gives you a leg up! It provides proof that you maximized your attendance the year before, and provides an outline of what you hope to accomplish this next year.

If it’s your first year, go back to Step #1 and do your homework! Check out who will be speaking, the sessions that are planned, and the vendors who will be there. If this information isn’t available as you’re planning, go back to the previous year’s schedule of sessions and events to get a sense of what is offered at the show. It’s even a good way to see if your competitors are there – showing or attending – as this is often a good incentive for your organization to go and “be seen” or to check out what the competition is doing/seeing, also.

Follow all five of these steps to be sure that the time and money you’re investing in trade show and conference attendance is worth it. You’ll be glad that you did!

Not sure what conferences or trade shows to attend? Contact me to talk about it and we’ll figure it out!