Making the most of your opportunities at trade shows |

Making the most of your opportunities at trade shows

Dave Archer

There’s no place like a trade show for carefully-strategized networking. Everyone attends trade shows for the express purpose of meeting other professionals, generating leads and building business connections. The key is to find a way to set yourself apart from the crowd in a way that will make you be remembered.

If you’re exhibiting at a trade show, you’re pulling double duty manning your booth and promoting your products and services, while also looking for the opportunity to walk around the trade show floor and conduct some business-to-business networking. Here’s how to strike a balance:

* Do as much pre-show prep work as possible to increase your networking potential. Post details about the event on your Web site, send an e-mail blast to colleagues and customers to invite them to the event, and try to secure an exhibitor list in advance. This will help you narrow down the other vendors you want to connect with on a person-to-person level.

* Come to the trade show prepared with plenty of business cards and collateral materials, such as brochures, fliers and fun give-away items with your logo and contact information. Also have an appointment book on hand so you can set meetings on the spot with potential clients and customers.

* If possible, ask at least one or two other people to help you during the tradeshow. These can be employees, partners or even friends or family members, provided they know the ins and outs of your business. With another set of hands on board, you can periodically leave your booth to do personal networking, and it will also be helpful to have assistance if you find yourself with several people lined up at your booth. Just make sure everyone is on the same page about answering questions, distributing literature and fielding questions about who you are and what you do.

* If someone comes to your booth and is interested in having a long, in-depth conversation, be prepared to nicely wrap up the discussion after a few minutes by volunteering to follow up with a phone call, e-mail or meeting in the future. While you don’t want to brush off any potential clients, customers or business connections, if someone is monopolizing your time and forcing others to leave your booth without speaking to you, it’s time to nicely move them along.

* Along the same line, be prepared to handle salespeople who come to trade shows not to do business with you, but to try and sell to you while you’re a captive audience at your booth. It’s one thing to be a persuasive networker it’s another to be forced to listen to a hard sell when you’re trying to generate your own business. If you find yourself being aggressively pitched, wrap up the “discussion” as delicately as possible by emphasizing that you are at the trade show to showcase your products and services, but that you will be happy to take a business card and follow up at a later time. Repeat this mantra until you get your point across.

* Before you hit the trade show floor for one-on-one networking, set a plan for who you want to talk to. If there are three other vendors you really want to connect with in person, make them a priority look for an opportunity to approach the booth when traffic is slow, and have your introduction prepared in advance. Give them the same courtesy you would want as a vendor if booth traffic gets busy, thank the vendor for his or her time, ask for a good time to follow-up, exchange cards and say good-bye. Remember, monopolizing another business’ time with your own sales pitch while they’re trying to reach new customers never leaves a good impression.

* Set yourself apart during the networking process by being attentive to each individual you speak with. Far too often, even seasoned business professionals approach networking like speed dating delivering a quick, canned message while eyeing the room for the next pitch. Give each person you come in contact with your undivided attention.

* Take advantage of the set-up and break-down time before and after the trade show to network in an informal environment. Many people tell me they make their best business-to-business connections during this time. People are more open to casual conversation from fellow exhibitors and you can easily work yourself into an introduction and conversation simply by commenting on a booth display, asking about the business, and talking about your expectations for the trade show.

Trade shows can be great places to build your business network. To be effective, come prepared, be attentive, and always follow-up on leads as soon as possible.

Dave Archer is chief executive officer of Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. Contact him through


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