It’s the new year. Besides loads of happy wishes and optimistic goals, it can only mean one thing.
Trade show season.
While in the past I’ve penned articles about WHY you should go to a trade show, this is not going to be one of them. This is going to be about WHAT you should do while you are there.
And to do that, I thought it would be fun to play a game.
Introducing “Trade Show Bingo”.
It’s easy. All you have to do is complete a row of squares on my super deluxe “Trade Show Bingo” card and you win!
That’s right, you could be a winner!
Click here if you want to download and print one out for your trip!
What are you going to win?
Uh, nothing from me…but if you do play the game and are victorious, you’ll have a unique trade show experience.
Lace-up some comfortable shoes and let’s review each tile on the Trade Show Bingo card.
Get Your Badge Scanned
Every year I see new trade show attendees dragging suitcases, bins, bags, and even grocery store milk crates through the trade show. These are packed tight with freebies and trade show giveaways.
All of those color cards and catalogs can be sent to you if you simply let the person in the booth scan your badge.
Don’t get a hernia.
Post on Social Media
You definitely need to do this. Especially if I’m in the picture too! Come say hello!
What’s great about posting from the trade show floor is that your current and potential customers can see that you go to trade shows to improve your business and craft.
Bonus points here if you had discussions with your customers about what you might see, and this becomes part of your research.
Don’t just post pics. Film a short video or two. What did you see? Why was it important?
Make sure you use the right hashtags for the event! Also, push out your own! Build more followers. (I use #atkinsontshirt by the way)
This is a big industry, and it’s full of shiny new faces.
You can look at them as your competition, or you can view them as colleagues. If you have had success, I think it is important to send the elevator back down for those that want to come up.
You can teach a seminar, sure.
But you can also talk to people that are walking around too. Going to a networking event? Ask questions with the people you are shaking hands with, and I’ll bet you can help them.
These interactions and exchanges are one of the things that I believe makes attending a trade show incredible. Knowledge bombs are dropped in line getting coffee or waiting for something to start.
Charge Your Phone
There are eighteen million people walking around with cell phones. But there are only three open wall sockets.
Bring a power brick back up. Or buy a better phone that has a battery that lasts longer.
Either way, that’s much better than the scavenger hunt for electrical outlets that will be ever-present around you.
Find Something Perfect
This definitely will happen.
The right garment. New ink. Thread. Equipment. A better way of doing something. This is the reason why people go to trade shows.
All of the exhibitors are there with their best stuff. Some of it has never seen the light of day until now. Their experts are standing right there wanting to talk to you and educate you on “why” their product is exactly right for your unique application.
Be open to it.
Solve a Problem
You are away. The staff is back at home.
Doomsday just landed at your office doorstep. Only you can solve the problem, and it’s happening while you are walking in the middle of the show floor.
Just a clue, now is not the time to get emotional and loud.
Yes. Everyone can hear you. They now know that Maria didn’t enter the order correctly, or that UPS lost two of the boxes. And that your customer is doing a Yosemite Sam impression on line 2. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you realize that whatever you say is causing eye rolls and funny looks from the crowd of people next to you. Worse is when they know you, and now they know you have a big problem on your hands. Schadenfreude at it’s best.
The best thing to say is “Hold on, let me find a quiet spot and I’ll call you back.”
“Why Are They Dressed Like That?”
People wear all sorts of clothing to a trade show. Hopefully, it starts with comfortable shoes and works up from there.
However, don’t be shocked when you see something that makes you turn your head and giggle.
I’m not a fashion icon by any means, but I do own a mirror.
Just try not to point.
Meet Up With A Client or Potential Client
This is one of my favorites.
Will any of your clients be attending any of the trade shows on your calendar? What about the ones that you wish were your clients?
Either way, make sure you arrange a time to meet up and spend some time with them. These days our customers can be a few states away, so getting some personal face time in the same room with them is difficult.
Trade shows are great because they attract a lot of different people, for different reasons. What is fantastic is when you can hang out for a bit and brainstorm about something you both just noticed on the show floor. By the time you get back home, a new plan has emerged for something great!
Now you can travel back home with an order or a new direction with a customer in your pocket!
Talk to Someone That Lives 1,000 Miles From You
In the crowd are people just like you. They own their business. They manage that department. They just got started in the industry.
No matter what level you see yourself, your career doppelganger is out there too.
And, they live more than 1,000 miles away. It’s highly doubtful that you could call them a competitor.
This is why you need to meet them. They are perfectly tuned to recognize your struggle. Your challenges are their challenges too.
Remember, “Your best friend is only a handshake away.”
Go To A Networking Event
Which brings me to a way to meet that new special person, the networking event.
These are created for exactly that purpose. To meet new people.
Here’s a new rule for you. If you come with people you know, you are not allowed to hang out with them. You already know them.
Do yourself a favor and introduce yourself to a new batch of industry friends.
If I’m there, be sure to say hello. I would love to meet you.
Meet Up With An Industry Friend
I’ve personally been going to trade shows my entire career. From those experiences, I’ve collected my fair share of folks that I can call “friend”.
I’m incredibly lucky.
One of my favorite trade show items on my to-do list is to arrange a meetup with one or more of these pals. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, midday coffee, a beer. 10 minutes before something starts.
I’ll take what they can give. They are there working too. But is sure is good to see them.
The bonus round kicks in when we can all hang out, and I get to meet new people to be included in that friend category. Mainly because they know folks that I don’t. “Hey, Marshall have you met…”?
That’s how it happens.
Buy A $4 Water Because You Forgot Your Refillable Bottle
I’m guilty of this one more than I can remember.
Walking around and constantly talking can really make you parched. Make sure you hydrate constantly. This Trade Show Bingo tile is placed here as a warning more than anything.
But, I’ll probably be marking this one day sooner or later.
Hopefully, you won’t.
Take a Selfie With The Fruit of the Loom Guys
Want to see pure joy?
Look at the happy expressions you see on people’s faces with the Fruit of the Loom guys bounce by. Green Grape, Purple Grape, Green Leaf, and Red Apple.
If you see them take a selfie. This is what you post on social media.
It looks just like this.
Place An Order For Something From A Booth
Every single one of the companies that have a booth at a trade show wants you as a customer.
They are there to sell.
Are you ready to buy?
More often than not, they have “trade show specials” that are meant to entice you to close a deal. This goes all the way up to the equipment that they are showing off on the floor. It’s not uncommon for these to be sold before the show even opens.
After all, they would rather ship you the equipment from the show floor than bring it back to their warehouse.
But it isn’t only equipment where you can find deals. The staff that man the booths want to show you the latest and greatest they offer.
Ready to buy?
Trust me, they have order forms ready.
Find A Spot
Hopefully, your feet are not hurting too badly. I mean it when I say you need to wear comfortable shoes.
You will be walking several miles every day. Plus, there are long moments of standing. The floor is concrete.
If you aren’t used to that, it can be a problem for the unprepared.
Personally, I’ve found that wearing compression socks and low-rise hiking shoes the best combo. I like the Vasque brand the best. Sturdy, comfortable, and they have a stiff sole that protects your feet. At the end of the day, I’m still full of energy and ready to go.
But, if you need to find a place to sit you can find chairs or benches usually along the periphery or outside the exhibit hall.
Grab a seat next to that guy calling his office.
Text Someone The Booth Number
You want to meet up with other people, right?
Look down. Every booth has a number. This is the trade show floor version of GPS.
Need to find someone, or they need to find you?
“Hey, I’m at booth #1801. I’ll be here for the next ten minutes.”
I’ve found more people this way than St. Bernard rescue dogs in the Swiss Alps.
Fly-In And Fly-Out The Same Day
Not everyone can dedicate several days to a trade show. What’s the next best thing?
Hitting the show for one-day only. In and out the same day.
No hotel. Zero dinner plans. All business.
You would be surprised at the amount of ground you can cover is six or eight hours. And when I say fly-in and fly-out, I mean driving too if you are close.
Trade shows exist to make you more professional. Take advantage of them.
It’s worth the effort, even if it’s only for a few hours.
Have a Drink With Someone You Don’t Know
This is very easy to do at a trade show. And when I say drink, I mean all things liquid. Not just alcoholic beverages.
Many years ago I reached out to Greg Kitson with Mind’s Eye Graphics to meet him and discuss my situation at the time. I had recently left a company where I worked for eighteen years and needed some guidance. Greg wrote for Impressions Magazine and conducted seminars.
I wanted his advice and invited him to have a cup of coffee with me at the ISS Orlando show. That sparked a lot of incredible opportunities for me, and I’m thankful for his guidance and friendship ever since.
The key takeaway here is that I didn’t know him, and reached out with an invitation for coffee.
Who do you want to meet? Or better, who do you need to meet?
Celebrate & Plan
Hopefully, last year was fantastic for you. Both business-wise and personally.
Trade shows offer the perfect opportunity to reward your staff with a celebration that focuses on last year, while simultaneously talking about this year’s goals and expectations.
Bring them out with you. Let them experience the trade show floor. Have them take a few classes. Give them the opportunity to network with their peers too.
Then, one night go find a great restaurant and let loose. Toast each other and your accomplishments. Get fired up to conquer the year and your competition.
Your crew only knows what they are exposed to and learn from. Give them more and reap the rewards.
Learn Something New
One of the best things about trade shows is the opportunity to take a class or a seminar from the leading professionals in the industry.
They happen all day, every day. They cover a tremendous amount of information, and there are classes for every level of skill and experience.
This is another reason to bring some staff members.
If you are the owner of the business, are you taking a class on production efficiency or a new art technique? Maybe marketing? Will you be going back to your office and teaching what you learned to your staff?
Get your crew trained up by learning from the best.
Make After Show Plans With Complete Strangers
So you sat next to someone in that seminar and they asked really good questions. Maybe you were introduced to another shop owner at the networking event.
It doesn’t matter how you met, what matters is what comes next.
Are you just going to walk away?
They have to eat too! Pull the tried and true, “Hey, I don’t really know you but I liked what you said. Let’s continue the conversation over some food. What do you say?”
This is how industry friends meet.
Maybe ten years from now you will still be getting together for a bite after the day walking the show.
You never know.
Wait At A Booth To Talk To Someone
This definitely will happen.
Your favorite rep. The CEO. Head of Marketing. Maybe even just the person manning the booth. At some point during the trade show, you are going to want to wait to speak to someone.
But, they are busy discussing something with another person.
While a lot of folks might simply say, “Hey, let’s come back later”, what I can tell you is that often these trade show floors are so big that later doesn’t happen.
You don’t want to walk ALL THE WAY OVER THERE AGAIN to have that chat. So, you just say to yourself, “Well, maybe next year.”
Instead, why not have a little patience? What if you waited a few minutes for them to finish?
In the meantime, check out what they offer at the booth, or peruse your email on your cell phone. Definitely let them know that you are waiting, but don’t wander off.
It will be worth it.
Wake Up Too Early
This is for all the people that are traveling west from the east coast. Your body is used to getting up early to go to work.
No problem. “I’ll just sleep in a little bit.”, you say to yourself.
Hahaha! The trick is on you!
When you finally wake up it is still 5:48 am.
But take heart. When west coast folks have to fly to the east coast, they have to wake up at the equivalent of 3:30 am to make that morning meeting.
I think you are getting the better end of the deal.
Wish That You Arrived Yesterday
This is going to happen.
It’s when you realize that the class you really wanted to take was yesterday.
Or another one of your clients was in town.
Maybe even something culturally going on in the city. It would have been nice to have that experience too.
This feeling always happens to me.
“I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity.” – Oprah Winfrey
“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain
“Fun is good.” – Dr. Suess