Visiting a trade show can be a very successful strategy for your business, although it can also be a bit daunting if it’s your first time and you don’t know what to expect. But with a little bit of planning it can be a great opportunity to find new products or suppliers, do some market research or just have a great day out and immerse yourself in your industry while it’s all under one roof.
plan in advance
Spending some time on your pre-show research will help you get the most out of your day. Start by browsing through the different sections of the event website – it will usually list all the exhibitors who have booked so far and give details of any talks or workshops that are taking place, as well as information on VIP ticket upgrades or any special discounts.
Check the speakers schedule so you know who you want to see before you get there, and make a note of the time and location, zone or stage so that you can locate them easily once you’re at the venue.
Start following the organisers, exhibitors and speakers on social media so you get notifications of any pre-event promotions or special announcements. It’s also nice to be able to retweet or share their content on your own feeds.
Also make sure you register and book your ticket! Attending a trade show is usually free but requires booking in advance – there might be an entrance fee if you just turn up on the day.
Depending on the size of the event, it can feel a bit overwhelming when you first arrive at the venue, so give yourself a bit of time to get settled and orientated.
One of the first things you’ll want to do is check your coat etc into the cloakroom. Venues can be hot and crowded and you don’t want to be carrying excess stuff around with you. But make sure to bring a lightweight bag to put any freebies, samples, literature etc in. A cross-body style is good – it’s less bulky than a backpack and means your phone and business cards are within easy reach.
You usually receive a show guide on arrival, so go and grab a coffee, sit down for ten or fifteen minutes and plan out your day. This is time well spent, especially if it’s a big event at a large venue. Giving yourself time to plan what you want to see and do will make for a much more successful experience.
The floorpan is often in the centre or at the back of the show guide. I find it’s easier to use if you pull it out so you can fold it and keep it in your pocket or bag.
Orientate yourself to the venue – which entrance did you arrive at? Which cloakroom have you checked your coat into? Mark them on your floorplan so that you can find them at the end of the day. There are often several entrances and cloakrooms and it’s very annoying to find you’ve spend five minutes queuing for your coat in the wrong place!
Mark the time and location of any talks or workshops you want to attend on your floorplan, and do the same with any specific exhibitors or areas you want to visit. It helps to plan your time so that you don’t find yourself at the wrong end of the venue speaking to an exhibitor two minutes before a talk starts!
Look for some landmarks that will help you navigate your way around. The different areas or ‘zones’ of the event are usually colour coded, and the stands are numerical or alphabetical (sometimes a combination of both). Large banners overhead will mark out the different zones, making it easier for you to find your way around, and the exhibitor’s stands within each zone will also be colour coded to match.
Cross off anything that you don’t really want or need to see – most trade events are big and there can be too much to cover in one day, so if you’re really not interested in a particular area of the exhibition, then cross it off your floorplan so you don’t waste time wandering around it.
Check out the exhibitors
When you do your pre-event research, make a list of exhibitors you want to visit. If there are specific people or companies you want to connect with, email them a couple of weeks before the event to let them know you’re planning to visit. Some exhibitors such as suppliers, distributors and wholesalers will offer appointments or meeting times if you want to discuss doing business with them, so set this up in advance if necessary.
Alternatively, you might want to be more covert. Trade events are a great opportunity for people watching, market research and learning what your competitors are offering, so some casual browsing and gentle eavesdropping might be more appropriate.
If you’re a blogger, check the organiser’s website to see if you’re eligible for a Press Pass – some organisers will list this option on their website. Trade show tickets are usually free, but if you’re going to a paid consumer event or something like the London Book Fair, a Press Pass is free if you qualify. It also gives you access to the Press Lounge with free tea, coffee and pastries – you might even get a Press goodie bag!
use the opportunity to create content
Trade shows are great places to find content for your blog or social media. This is often where the latest designs, new products and industry announcements are made, and you can bring that buzz straight to your own audience.
Think about ways to create content during your visit, and take plenty of photos. A selfie of you arriving with the event signage in the background, a quick Instagram Live when you stop for coffee/lunch, a Facebook post with some top takeaways from a speaker, or some general shots of the event (if there’s a gallery level it’s great to get one from above) are all quick ways to create content. Check out any hashtags for the event and use these in your posts so that other visitors and exhibitors get to see you too.
Remember that exhibitors have paid to be at the event, so be respectful of their time and be aware that selling to their target audience is their priority. Trade shows are where buyers go to source stock, so exhibitors will want to talk to them rather than chat to you if you’re just scoping things out.
Ask permission if you’re taking photos of specific stock or designs – it’s usually fine, but it’s polite to ask before you start snapping away. Use it as an opportunity to start a conversation with the exhibitor, for example if you want to blog about them or interview them for a future podcast. Don’t be afraid to chat to exhibitors and get their business card/details – their product or service could be a good subject for future content, so follow any relevant businesses or contacts on Social Media while you’re still fresh in their minds.
Write notes on any business cards or literature as you pick them up – a name and a few key bullet points will help you remember who you spoke to and to follow up with them effectively after the event.
Also think about how you could create content before the event – maybe a blog about your plans, which speakers you’re looking forward to or what products you’re excited to check out. Use your visit as a way of showing your own audience that you’re following trends or expanding your knowledge and expertise about your industry.
Do some market research
Attending a trade show as a visitor is a good way to check it out and see if you want to exhibit in the future. Sit and watch other visitors while you’re having a coffee or look at the audience waiting for speaker events and profile them – their age, gender, demographic, what kind of clothes they wear, what phone do they use, are they posting on Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook about the event?
People are fascinating, they leave so many clues – if they’re using the event hashtag on Social Media you can easily find and follow them afterwards to learn more about their interests, needs or purchasing habits. This could all be valuable information for you if you decide to exhibit at a future event.
Make a night of it
Some events offer VIP tickets or host awards events in the evening. These can be a good investment and offer an opportunity to network with exhibitors, speakers, organisers and other industry people such as journalists and social media influencers.
If you’re planning to stay overnight, book your accommodation well in advance. Sometimes the organiser will offer a special hotel rate, but also check out options like Airb’n’b. The earlier you book the more likely you’ll be to get a good deal.
Hotels close to large venues are usually pricey but big events generally have good transport links, so do a little bit of research – a 15 or 20 minute journey could save money on expensive room rates.
to wrap up
It’s worth taking the time to plan out your visit so that you get the most out of it. Arrive early and wear comfortable footwear, you’re going to be walking a lot! Pack a water bottle, some lip balm and moisturiser in your bag (air con is very dehydrating) along with a notebook and pen for speaker notes.
Treat it as a research opportunity to see your target audience, competitors and industry in action. Check out the exhibitors who are one or two steps ahead of you to get ideas for where you might want to take your own business.
It’s also a good opportunity to learn about any industry support, trade bodies, grants or investment that might be available to you. Collect any relevant literature from exhibitors or press releases from the Press Office for new products or industry developments that catch your eye.
Just attending one single event could give you ideas for months worth of content and unique images to use on social media, provide you with leads and contacts for suppliers or distributors, introduce you to new products, trends or ideas or help you access information about overseas opportunities or trade bodies.
But most of all, enjoy the day. Taking some time out from your business to immerse yourself in your industry can really boost your motivation and generate new creative ideas. It’s a fantastic opportunity to make new connections, broaden your network and learn about emerging trends. Check out the organiser’s websites for overseas trade shows too – even if you’re not able to attend, you can still learn a lot from their online content and social media channels.
Check out this great list of UK trade shows for 2019 from www.10times.com – there are events for every kind of industry and interest. It’s worth signing up to the mailing list for the main ones in your sector, they’re a great source of industry updates and some organisers also publish podcasts or videos of speakers from the previous year’s event which are well worth checking out too. Click here to see the listing: Events and Trade Shows in the UK 2019