Do You Know How to Network at a Trade Show?

Trade show season is perfect for catching up with old pals and current contacts, but how do you squeeze the most out of a relatively short event? Before you know it, you’ll be jetting off to the next conference, over and over until the season ends.

Trade shows fly by, but you still need to be able to scope out new resources and make quality connections with vendors. Get the most out of trade show season with these seven tips.

1. Set Your Objectives

Trade shows can be overwhelming if you don’t have a clear-cut set of objectives for each show. In some cases, you might attend solely for competitor research. Other times, you attend as an exhibitor, looking to generate leads for your business. Or perhaps you’re there for the panels, and are simply curious to discover who’s on the floor.

Each trade show tends to have a very different objective that will likely determine how you choose to spend your time. Set your objectives before you arrive to avoid wasting valuable trade show hours.

Click to tweet for setting your objectives at a trade show

2. Attend the Event Solo

While it secretly terrifies an introvert to attend an event alone, you’ll likely garner more attention and conversations than if you went with coworkers or friends.

Think back to high school: big groups are intimidating, but small groups and individuals are easier to connect and converse with. Trade shows are no different. The cliques still exist, but by attending alone, you make yourself more approachable. This way, you’ll be having more conversations with potential clients or customers, and less with your friends and coworkers.

Click to tweet on why you should attend a trade show alone

3. Say Hello to Everyone

As with all group events, you’ll always run into an old friend, coworker, or industry contact. Be sure to catch up with them and find out what’s new. See if anything has changed with their position, company, or focus, and if there may be another opportunity to work with them. But don’t forget to make new contacts, too. Trade shows allow you to expand your professional network rapidly.

Click to tweet about saying hello to everyone at a trade show to expand your professional contacts

4. Be Open to Conversations

Some introverted trade show rookies might find themselves up against the wall, out of the limelight, hoping someone will come their way to say hello.

A successful trade show attendee will swallow their fear of social rejection, march up to a stranger, and open themselves up to conversations. Sure, you might be pulled out of your comfort zone, but trade shows are an ideal time to stand out, network, and be heard.

Click to tweet swallow your fear of social rejection and be open to conversations

5. Engage in Relevant Conversations

It’s important to engage with people and make new contacts, but it’s equally important to focus on the conversations that will benefit you the most. If you’ve set your agenda and have clear cut objectives, the conversation you’re having should have relevance in helping you reach those goals.

On the other hand, if a conversation isn’t advantageous to your objectives, be polite and excuse yourself from the conversation. Remember, your time is precious at trade shows, and this isn’t the time to carry on a conversation that will have no benefit to you or your goals.

Click to tweet about trade show time being precious and a time to engage in relevant conversations

6. Have a Plan in Place

If you’ve ever wandered a trade show gazing at booths, you probably went at it without a plan. Try putting some of these strategies in place to get the most out of your time:

  • Create a Short List of People You Need to See. All trade shows publish a list of attendees ahead of the show. Study that list and make a plan for those companies you need to see before you leave the trade show.

Pro Tip: Companies often put out a newsletter, or announce on social media, who is going to be (or is at) the event. Check the hashtag the morning of the event, and read the newsletter, too. This will tell you not only who you’ll see that day, but quite possibly, what their pitch is, too.

  • Determine How You’ll Manage Your Leads. Any veteran trade show attendee will tell you to bring extra business cards, but the smart ones also have a plan for all the cards they receive. Some make notes on the card to jog their memory of the client, while others have a pocket system (left pocket I call immediately, right pocket I call when I have time, no pocket goes in the trash). No matter how you categorize your leads, place all leads in your CRM with a note of which trade show you met them at, so you can properly attribute the success of each show.

Pro Tip: Carry a pen that will work on business cards with a glossy coating.

  • Schedule Client Meet and Greets at the Show. If the trade show is specific to your industry, there’s a pretty good chance your clients and customers will be at the show. A few weeks before the show, put together a plan for customers you need to see face to face. Use your time wisely: save client meetings for before and after trade show hours, to make the best use of your time on the floor.

Pro-Tip: Reserve a table at the conference’s hotel bar or restaurant to ensure you have a space available to conduct your meetings.

  • Skip the Panels in Lieu of Stellar Conversations. Unless you’re attending solely for the panels, don’t be afraid to skip them. When the panels start, the floor gets quiet, which means you have a better chance at high-quality, undistracted conversations with attendees during that time.

Pro-Tip: If you have a prospect speaking at the conference, listen to their discussion and jot down 2-3 interesting points they made. Then, visit them at their booth later in the day or the following day. This will not only give you something to talk about, but the prospect will see that you’re highly engaged in their business.

Click to tweet about skipping trade show panels for conversations with a lead

7. Fly Home the Next Day

Instead of racing out of the conference, make your return flight the next day. You’ll be less rushed to finish up your discussions, and you can unwind with others that stayed around the extra day. Plus, you can take the evening to follow up with your high-valued leads via email, making you amongst the first in their inbox.

Click to tweet - Don

While some of these tips seem elementary, mastering them will ensure you have a successful trade show both as an attendee and an exhibitor.

Read more: Get Your First Trade Show Clients With These Marketing Ideas