Over the last few years we have seen a decline in trade show attendance. There are several reasons for this: For one thing, trade shows always seem to suffer in economic downturns, because most organizations are trying to do more with fewer people, which just makes it more difficult to get away from the office to attend. Plus, much of the product information that we used to go to trade shows to get is now available at your finger tips on the internet anytime you want or need it. So it makes sense that the trade show world is a bit slower these days. However, there are still many reasons to attend trade shows and ways to make it worth your time to be there.
Many shows have breakout sessions and tech features these days. Even though many breakout sessions focus on products that a particular vendor is pushing, you will often get some good insight and ideas for how their product might be utilized that can be useful to you in ways the speaker never intended. Also, trade show promoters often hire experts in a particular field to speak on a topic rather than a product. Look online (all trade shows have Web sites these days, right?) and see if there is a list of the sessions before you go, so you can choose the ones you think would be most beneficial.
You will never meet more people interested in your company and what it does than you will at a trade show. Use that to your advantage. You might not need a particular product or service now (or ever), but people change job titles, change companies, or just change how they do business. It’s always good to have resources for whatever might happen.
Who knows? Maybe the person working the vendor’s booth might need your services – don’t be afraid to ask. They might need a personal loan for their kids’ education, and if you’re in banking they could be a potential customer. I’m not suggesting that you try to hard-sell the representatives who are working their booths (although there might be some satisfaction in turning the tables on some of the more annoying sales representatives that you occasionally run into), but you’d be surprised at the opportunities that get uncovered simply by having a business conversation about what you do and what they do.
Yet a third networking opportunity presents itself: other attendees. Other people are probably looking for the same things you are, and have many of the same issues that brought you to the trade show. Meet and talk with other attendees – they many know of a solution or have recommendations that could help you greatly. Make it a point to talk to as many people as possible while you’re there.
Even if you can read about and learn about anything and everything on the mighty interwebs, you still have to have some idea what you’re looking for in order to find it. Sure, there are trade magazines and blogs (including this one) and any number of places that write about the latest and greatest stuff, but they still have limited reach, and most of them write for the masses. A trade show is your chance to find that “shiny new thing” you didn’t even know you should be looking for: a new technology, design, option, or whatever that could potentially help you and your business in a way you hadn’t even thought about. Making a buying decision is a whole lot easier when you know all of your possible options.
Trade Show Stuff
Not really that important, but hey, you’ve got to love that trade show swag. Note pads, pens, and highlighters for a year. T-shirts for your weekend yard work or for drying your car off when you’re done washing it. Stocking stuffers for the holidays. Flying toys for your kids. Quick birthday presents for co-workers. And nothing says “Happy Anniversary” like a logo-branded, 128 Mb, USB thumb drive. So stock up. And follow your nose to the booth that’s giving away the fresh-popped popcorn (there’s always at least one)…early in the day while it’s still fresh!