If you seek to gain an expert’s understanding of a given industry, attending a trade show is the single most effective course of action. Attending a trade show is an extremely cost efficient way to learn about a field very, very quickly. Because they usually occur only once or twice a year, all major and minor players of an industry gather to advertise, share in new developments, and establish relationships.
I recommend two websites as resources to find an appropriate trade show for your interests. Both http://biztradeshows.com and http://tsnn.com offer comprehensive lists of upcoming trade shows organized into different categories, such as industry, city, or country. I identify a trade show I think I want to go to and then more fully research the event on its individual website. Who are they exhibitors attending the show? I need to be sure: Is this the right show for me? Will it satisfy my aims? Although trade shows are relatively cost effective, travel expenses and entry fees demand that you choose wisely. Be smart.
To try and gain an even fuller understanding of an industry before I attend a trade show, I contact a trade magazine. I want to talk to someone who can tell me just a little bit more about their field – and my field. I find a magazine that caters to the upcoming show or industry as a whole and ask to speak with someone in advertising. The advertising department loves to talk. This interaction allows me to ask questions not only about the industry as a whole, but also what to expect of the trade show. Who am I going to meet? What type of benefits will I receive? I am trying to gain as much information as possible to verify my decision to attend a particular trade show.
You’ve booked a show and flown out to attend it. But before you’re overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event, the thousands of exhibitors and throngs of fellow attendees, make a game plan. You will need to be efficient with your time – attending a trade show is tiring! First, obtain the catalogue of exhibitors at the event, and identify those you’d like to explore. I don’t plan on actually meeting all of these exhibitors, but I want to tour their booth and feel them out. How large are they? What type of new products do they have? Are they friendly? What’s the vibe?
Although the main purposes of attending a trade show are to gain information, to identify potential holes in an industry, and to establish relationships, there may be instances in which showing your own idea or product are appropriate. However, this act should be approached and committed very carefully. The exhibitors have essentially purchased the right to try to sell their ideas at the trade show; you are infringing on their territory.
Each trade show participant is typically given a badge identifying who they are, such as buyer or exhibitor, etc. But I don’t like being sized up so quickly. And to avoid that judgment and assumption, I’ll turn my badge upside down. Or conceal it. They don’t like that too much, but I’ve noticed a difference in treatment when they don’t know exactly whom they’re talking to. Dress sharply. Appearing professional is key to being taken seriously. I start by commenting on their product. When they in turn ask me who I am, and what my product is, then an opportunity has arisen in which I may share my idea and my information and bridge a potential relationship.