A trade show is a great way to make contacts, increase your visibility and promote your company, find new products, build and solidify existing relationships, and educate yourself about the latest industry trends.

With several thousand of square feet of show floor to walk and hundreds – or even thousands – of potential vendors to visit, attending a trade show can be overwhelming and tiring. To avoid, aimless walking and wasted time, MC2 has compiled key tips on attending trade shows to help you maximize your time at the show and gain the best return on your investment.

Before the Show
Sending an employee to a trade show is an investment – travel costs, entertainment expenses, registration, the list could go on. However, if you spend time in advance of a trade show to plan your course, you’ll see a much better return on your investment. Planning will help you use your time and resources more effectively, for better business connections, and, ultimately, to justify expenditures.

Here are some considerations for preparing your plan before you go to the show:

Identify the business challenge you’re looking to solve. Clearly define your goals and objectives for attending the trade show.

Determine the number of employees who will attend the trade show. To create a buying team and minimize the buying cycle, it may be more cost-effective to send more than one employee.

Establish a process for comparing and evaluating vendor products and services based on your business needs. Knowing this in advance will help you accurately evaluate vendors after the show.

Research the trade show’s web site to learn about exhibiting companies, educational program tracks and schedule, networking opportunities, as well as data from previous years.

Book your travel and lodging accommodations as far in advance as you can to take advantage of discounts.

Pre-register for the show, which will not only save your company money, but will also save time onsite. Pre-registered attendees also receive emails from the show management about events, new products and other informative news happening at the show. This will help you better plan your time at the show.

Plan your schedule and set appointments in advance to make sure you get quality time with the people you want to see. Divide your list into must see and want to see booths to help prioritize your time. Map out your route to avoid crisscrossing the exhibit floor.

Register to attend seminars and conferences that address topics and issues that affect your business. It’s a cost-effective way to benchmark what your company is doing, gain third-party insight and discover ways to overcome specific challenges.

At the show
Keep in mind that trade show days are long and require a lot of walking and talking. In fact, during a recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – and one of the biggest shows around – the Gizmodo team logged 14,839 – 15,440 steps each. In one day.

Besides wearing comfortable shoes, here’s what you can do to make the most of your time at the show:

Review and revise your plan, as necessary. Try to stick to your schedule, but
allow for last minutes changes made to the show directory and schedule of events. If you have done a good job of prioritizing your time, you can be more flexible on the back end.

Network, network, network. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet industry peers and uncover hidden business opportunities at receptions, hospitality suites and other on-site events. After all, trade shows are about people connecting with people, brands, information and business solutions—all under one roof.

Bring plenty of business cards and information about your company. Make notes on the back on business cards you collect to remind yourself of next steps post-show or important points discussed.

Gather literature and take copious notes to get a current pulse on the industry. Look for new “buzz words” and latest trends and practices.

After the show
The constant stimulation from exhibiting companies, attendees and events helps create a buzz during a trade show. Keep the momentum going post-show to ensure a better return on your time and monetary investment. Here’s how:

Organize information collected at the show and update files. Build a show folder or envelope to share with other business associates. Update your bidders list with the information you have now put together.

Follow-up with companies you requested additional information from.

Reach out to any companies you may have missed on site. Monitor post-show media coverage, which typically highlights the most important news and trends featured at the show, to see if you may have missed any potential partners that can help resolve a problem.

Contact show management to secure copies of presentations given at conference sessions or seminars you attended. This will supplement the notes you took during the session.

Evaluate and prepare a thorough report for upper management that summarizes your experience. Highlight successes and opportunities discovered based on the guidelines set before the show to determine if your trip was worth your time and the investment.

Whether you’re exhibiting or attending a trade show, having a focused plan-of-action will give you better results and a better return on your investment. Make a plan – and buy comfortable shoes – before you get to a trade show. Not only will you save your feet, but you’ll make more meaningful connections and make better use of your time and money.