My Thrivers Guide To Trade Shows

It’s Monday evening and I’m thinking about what I’ve learned so far at Graph Expo, the largest US graphic communication trade show held each year in Chicago, Illinois. Let me share a few not-so-common thoughts on how I planned to thrive at this year’s show.

In case you don’t know me, I’m not your usual show goer…

I will admit some of the tips in my Thrivers Guide may be too late for you to consider but not to worry, next year is a “Print” year. Held every 4 years, it will be the largest graphic commutation trade show held in the world in 2009. You can use these tips for next year—or any year for that matter.

Muir’s Thrivers Guide to Trade Shows

  1. Get a hotel close to the show. I’ve done my years up in town and I enjoy heading up town to see a show or have dinner, even stroll the park, but when it comes to travel to and from the Chicago Convention center…nothing beats the Hyatt. Three words: No Cab Necessary.
  2. Bring a pair of comfortable shoes. I’ve done some years with a few trade show vendors “working a booth.” Whether you’re standing there or you’re cruising the floor you gotta have comfy shoes. I’m a Clark’s man. How about you?
  3. Schedule appointments in 30-45 minute blocks. No one hour meetings. Let them know what you want to get out of the meeting, have them do the same and get it done. You need time to decompress from what you saw, heard or shared as well as time to get to your next appointment. You’ll be thankful you have that 15 minute window. Some people go to Graph Expo to see technology while others go to see people. Some do both. I go for the people, the technology…and the city!
  4. A tip taken from Frank Romano, master trade show thriver, has served me well over the years. Take the first day to walk the entire floor. While on your walk about keep a show guide or notebook handy to jot down what or who you want to see in more detail. I’ve taken to using my little digital camera to snap photos of what I want to see later, study your notes and pictures that night and make a detailed game plan for the subsequent days.
  5. The following day hit your targeted stops. For me I usually have three groupings: people I want to see, technology I want to see and seminars I want to attend. Take a few notes about each interaction. What did I want to learn? Did I learn it? Why or why not? Was there anything new I learned? How will I apply it? What do I do next to capitalize on what I learned?
  6. Each night send a follow up note for each business card you collected (or gave out) that day saying thanks restating what you talked about or what you saw and what actionable items are you looking for from them and what actionable items will you do as a result of your meeting. Doing it each night helps you remember what you learned sooner and keeps the amount of work to a minimum. You won’t do it if the pile is an inch thick or more.
  7. I gather what I learn into three categories, yours could be different, but having some way to aggregate the information can help you take it in and apply it. I group things into how will it help me strategize for my future? How will it help me develop existing/new products or services? How will it help me sell? How will it help me produce what I do? How much can I save? How much will I make? How much will I lose if I don’t do anything about it? The last question acts as a motivator too. These are my questions I ask myself to organize what I’m learning, what are yours?
  8. Get out and unplug. You’re in Chicago. Walk in Grant Park. Have a great dinner. Take in a show. Take at least one night and do something totally “non-industry” related. You need that as part of a reward for coming and doing the work to make your work beneficial. Do this more than once if possible. Do it once each day. But don’t do it so much you forget why you took the time to come and learn and share.
  9. Share what you learned. When you get back have a meeting with your team. Have a meeting with your customers. Do it immediately. Share with them the top 10 things you heard, you saw, you did while at the show to help facilitate sharing and learning in your organization and with customers. It’s even better when two or more people go to the show and talk about what they saw. Two people see the same thing differently. Appreciate the diversity and open your mind to learning from others. If you think your way is the only way, you’re lost already.
  10. Plan for next year. Grab your notebook and jot down what you want to do more of or less of next year. How will you do it differently? How will you enjoy it more? How will you make more from your time and effort? You get the idea.

Do these and you’ll thrive at any trade show. Even better, why not share a list like this with your customers and let them take it to their customers and help everyone get more from their trade shows? Hmmm.

Tune in tomorrow I’ll share specifics on what I saw and heard. But for today, plan to thrive all you can…it beats surviving any day.

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