5 Ways To Maximize Your Trade Show Experience

By: Travis Dutka 

Love them or hate them trade shows remain one of the main arenas for buying, selling and networking in most industries and the fact that all the major players from your industry are going to be at that next show means that you are probably going to be attending as well. Knowing that your organization is going to be sending you and your team to the trade show, here are 5 ways that you can get the most out of your trade show experience.  

1. Plan ahead


“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Abraham Lincoln 

Trade shows are typically pretty expensive to exhibit or attend which makes planning ahead that much more valuable. Regardless of what capacity that you are attending the show, investing the time to plan ahead in the following areas will most certainly prove valuable.

a.) Do your research: Know who is going to be there, who you want to connect with, where they are on the floor and what events they are attending outside of the show as well. Is your hotel close enough so you can walk down or host a hospitality suite? Are there restaurants nearby to take clients or prospects to a nice lunch?

b.) Create measurable goals: Set goals and build out some simple success metrics that you can use to measure your effectiveness and improve for the next show. As a bonus you will be able to give much more detailed reports to your boss of how you spent your time and what you learned (especially valuable if your list of leads or sales are lower then expected!)

d.) Create a 3-6 month timeline – Develop a clear plan of what needs to happen and when. Mike Thimmesch of Skyline Exhibits has a great blog that gives a great frame work for creating a 6 month plan: “Trade Show Planning Timeline: Manage Your Logistics AND Marketing”

2. Get Social

With Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and the other various social media outlets readily available it is easier then it has ever been to connect with the right people before you attend the trade show, especially if you plan it out! You can also leverage social media to create awareness of your presence at the show and help drive traffic to your booth. Done properly you can actually measure and assign ROI for your trade show. It creates more points of contact and can integrate nicely into a follow-up strategy with all your contacts.

Hubspot has a new eBook The Inbound Marketing Trade Show Planning Guide” that you can download to get a more detailed guide.

3. Look with different lenses

At some point, whether you are walking the floor or hosting visitors in your booth, take your sales glasses off and put on your research glasses on!  This is the perfect time to observe your competitors, suppliers, distributors and clients to try to gain insight into their world and discover trends and commonalities that you can’t find by just looking at their website. This is valuable information that can feed game changing innovation for your organization or business unit provided you can afford the time to step out of the sales hat for a period time and look strategically at the competitive landscape that you have sitting in front of you.

4. Sell differently

Everyone going to a trade shows expects to sell or be sold; that’s not a surprise, but you will notice that there are people who are much better at it then others. Remember a few key points when selling at a trade show:

– People typically make an initial decision to even stop at your booth in 3 seconds. Invest in a booth that clearly communicates your main message in a quality way.


– Crowds seem to attract crowds – do you have something at your booth that is worth stopping for?

– Start with a conversation that qualifies the prospect so you can build rapport without pushing your product while validating the “value” of the prospect so that you can decide to pursue a deeper discussion or not.

Everyone has different opinions on the best approach to sales strategies at trade shows but I particularly enjoyed A dozen dirty tricks for Trade Show success”an older blog by Kirby Wadsworth.

5. Debrief and take action on what you learn

You’ve invested the time and money to do the show so ensure you end it off properly with a debriefing session including everyone who attended, preferably before you leave to catch your flight back to the office. Take a few minutes to review a few key points: the way to get the most out of your debrief is to go over the goals and metrics that you set going into the show but even if you don’t have any of those you can still go over a simple debrief that could yield some valuable discoveries such as:

– What did we learn?

– What was the most effective part of what we did?

– What was the least effective thing we did?

– Ideas for next trade show based on this one?

– Who are your best leads and what is your follow-up plan?

Remember to assign actionable tasks to specific people for each learning to guarantee that the new information is applied. 

Even in the age of the internet with all of the information available at our finger tips, it doesn’t seem like trade shows are going anywhere any time soon so we might as well make the most of them!

Travis Dutka 360 IncentivesTravis Dutka is a communicator at 360Incentives.com who likes iced espresso.  Connect with Travis on LinkedIn here.