Trade Shows: Walking the Route With Purposeful Enjoyment

What's the best way to navigate a trade show? While there are no hard and fast rules, ICS Cleaning Specialist, Commercial Floor Care magazine, and the World Floor Covering Association, developed a navigation guide to trade shows.

So you're thinking about going to a trade show? Whether it's your first one or your 10th, there's a method to getting on board, and having a productive, enjoyable time as you work your way through the list of speakers, seminars and hands-on projects, and pick and choose your route through the booths manned by all of the companies and manufacturers you came to see.

How do you take advantage of all of the opportunities? After the cost of registering for the show, the flight, hotel room and food, you want to make sure your experience is complete, and valuable to your business.

What to do, then, in navigating a trade show? While there are no hard and fast rules, ICS Cleaning Specialist, Commercial Floor Care magazines, and the World Floor Covering Association, did get together to develop a navigation guide to trade shows. The Navigation Guide is designed to simplify what sometimes turns into a frustrating exercise. And it all begins before you ever set foot in the trade show pavilion.

Advance Planning
When you plan ahead, you're setting yourself up for a satisfactory trade show experience. It's a good idea to begin planning a solid month before the event. You've already heard about the show, have received emails and standard mail encouraging your attendance, have spoken with fellow association members, even discussed it on the ICS Cleaning Specialist and CFC Bulletin Boards.

Before you even register, it's important to consider two of the most important aspects of attending a trade show: What are your goals for the show, and what do you need to do to achieve them?

Set Goals
When you've decided on what you want to get out of a show, don't fill the plan with vague ideals. "See what's new in the industry" and "meet new distributors" are fine main points, but they aren't specific. Make a list of points under each heading that are flexible enough to allow you to make on the spot adjustments, but focused enough so you don't lose sight of what you want to accomplish.

An Attendance Strategy
View the trade show as a sporting event, where the coach enters the playing field with a game plan. As a professional cleaner in the cleaning and restoration industry, you should have a game plan in hand every time you walk onto the trade show floor.

Defining your strategy takes no more time than setting up steps to achieving your goals. It's important to understand that you can't achieve all of your goals, so be realistic. It's equally important to understand that if you're attending a trade show with co-workers or employees, allocate your goals (tasks). This is one of the more effective, yet overlooked, ways to successfully achieve all that you want from your plan.

Get Show Materials Immediately, If Not Sooner
Trade shows are unique, and each has its very own floor plan and booth/display designation. With that in mind, it's important that attendees familiarize themselves with trade show geography before walking through the front door.

Give yourself time; contact the trade show sponsor association or organization and ask for a floor plan and booth directory. Cross-referencing the floor plan with the directory will allow you to lay out a game plan: A walking route through the key trade show areas that you want to see. Doing so will save you countless hours of aimless wandering and backtracking. You can always meander aimlessly later, after you've visited each key point on your list.

Prioritize Your 'Sight-seeing'
Not all things are created equal, and that especially holds true at trade shows where there are some exhibitors who are more important to you than others.

Prioritizing booths that warrant your attention is important if you want to enjoy a successful trade show. Try using multicolored highlighters or colored stickers to group those exhibitors as first priority for your attention, and/or second and third priority. Check off those booths as you visit them, and move on to the next in your order of priority, sticking with your plan. Finish with each priority listing before moving on to the next.

Now that you are ready to traverse the trade show floor, keying in on your high-priority exhibitors first, remember: Keep your focus. Here are a few guidelines that may prove helpful as you move through the aisles.

Travel Light
Don't slow yourself down by carrying a briefcase, product literature or other unnecessary items, all of which can tire you before you've had the chance to dent your priority list. Check them at the desk or leave them in your hotel room. Remember: travel light.

Walking Shoes
Pick out a decent pair of walking shoes, make sure they're comfortable, sturdy and built for walking in, and wear them. You'll have a better time if your feet aren't killing you. And make sure your walking shoes look good.

Pick Your Talking Points
You've now started visiting your first priority exhibition booths. Well, don't allow yourself to be gobbled up by pointless conversation. Steer the conversation into an area you want to talk about, and stick to what you want to talk about. And make sure booth staffers know what you want to talk about. Endless talking about products that don't concern your business does you very little good. Instead, ask specific questions keyed on in specific products that interest you; you'll get more out of the trade show experience that way.

Trade show attendees sometimes judge the success of trade show attendance by the number of seminars attended. That's not necessarily the case. As in prioritizing your exhibition booth visits, do the same with seminars. Attend those that are of prime importance to your business, and try to obtain seminar information from the B-list in some other way. Attending too many seminars keeps you from the trade show, wasting valuable show time.

Return Home Prepared
Prepare a briefing for coworkers who were not able to attend the trade show. Fill them in on what you saw, exhibitors you talked with, and how important the information you've brought back is to the business.

Final Advice
The most important piece of advice in navigating a trade show is this: Use your time wisely.

If you have three days to work with, don't try to schedule everything in two days. Design a plan structured enough to allow you to stay on track, but flexible enough to allow for sudden changes, such as lunch with an exhibitor, an off-site product demonstration by an important exhibitor or manufacturer, and so on.

The Boy Scouts of America holds an annual jamboree, attended by hundreds of thousands of people, and it comes off seemingly without a hitch year in and year out. There's a lesson to be learned there: Be prepared.

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