Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

Insider Tips on Navigating an Industry Tradeshow

Whether you are an entrepreneur, changing industries or advancing in your current industry while you pursue your MBA at Babson, chances are you already have or will attend a conference or tradeshow at some point in your career. Before coming to Babson, I organized tradeshows for five years and was responsible for designing exhibit hall floor layouts, selling exhibit space to companies, attracting attendees and executing a seamless event for a wide variety of industries, from the federal government to electrical engineers, biotech to non-profits. I recently found myself on the other side as an attendee rather than an organizer and thought I would share my insights with you. (My recent tradeshow attendance was made possible by the Babson Student Leadership Initiative Fund (SLIF), which supports student leadership endeavors that promote the Babson brand.) Here are my insider tips for navigating an industry tradeshow:

Before the tradeshow

1. Set goals of what you want to accomplish – Why did you decide to attend this tradeshow and pay the registration fee in the first place? Set a few goals for yourself – whether that is the number of exhibitors you want to speak to or presentations you want to attend, it will help you focus on getting it done.

2. Explore the tradeshow website for tools and sessions – Many tradeshow organizers offer planning tools on the conference website to create your own itinerary before you attend, exhibitor profiles, a twitter account you can follow for updates or LinkedIn groups. Also, if you are interested in being connected with an individual or company, the conference organizer can help make that connection.

3. Plan your route around the exhibit floor  Print a copy of the exhibit hall floor plan. Identify the exhibitors that you want to see and draw a route for yourself to follow. If your time is short, target the areas where the aisles are less crowded. 80% of attendees enter and walk to the right – so go the opposite direction, head to the back and then work your way to the center and exit. See my sample floor plan route as an example.

Sample Exhibit Floor Route

At the tradeshow

1. Know what your attendee badge says to exhibitors – Look at your attendee badge and make sure that the information is correct. Make note of whether there is a barcode printed below your name and if there is anything that may be an identifying mark – i.e. a color strip at the bottom, a colored dot, wording that states you are a “buyer,” “non-buyer,” “student.” Exhibitors target “buyers” and will avoid other attendee categories. When speaking with an exhibitor, they may ask to “scan your badge” which you may allow or decline. If you allow them to do so, all of the information you provided when you registered for the tradeshow is shared with the exhibitor at the end of the show. Alternatively, you may politely decline and offer your business card instead stating that “your information changed since you registered.”

2. Bring lots of business cards – You have the opportunity to meet and speak with lots of people. Having your business card ready is a sure way to begin capitalizing on new relationships or providing it to an exhibitor rather than having your badge scanned (see above). Keeping some business cards in your badge holder is a quick and easy access point.

3. Stay nimble – Exhibitors will have lots of items they are giving away and glossy papers that you do not need. The only thing you should collect is a business card. Typically, any information available at the exhibit booth is available on the company website. Carrying a huge bag around the exhibit floor weighs you down and makes you look like an amateur, thus exhibitors will take you less seriously. Lastly, you will be on your feet a lot, walking on top of concrete floors. When you stop to talk to an exhibitor, step into their booth and off of the aisle. Many exhibitors purchase additional padding that is put down under their carpet. You will feel an immediate difference and give your feet a temporary break.

After the tradeshow

1. Follow-up with exhibitors – Exhibitors meet exponentially more attendees than you meet exhibitors. After the show, they prioritize the attendees that they follow-up with based upon the likelihood of a sale. If you need information, though you may not be an immediate customer, take the initiative to follow-up with them rather than waiting to hear from them.

2. Re-visit the tradeshow website – The tradeshow website is equally, if not more valuable after the tradeshow than it is before the event, yet many attendees never return to capitalize on the information. Some tradeshows post photos, transcripts, session recordings and all of the exhibitor contact information within a week of the show ending. So if there was a session or exhibitor you missed, there is a good chance you will find it there.

3. Check your email inbox & spam folder – If you provided your contact information in any form – business card, scanned badge, etc. the exhibiting company will add you to their email mailing list. Whether you want to receive their email or not, it will land in one of your email folders – cleanse or keep as you see fit.

Enjoy your next tradeshow and hopefully a few of these tips will come in handy. Please share any of your own tips in the comments below.