Make the Most of Your Next Trade Show

With ad:tech San Francisco coming up in a couple of weeks (be sure to swing by and see the team at booth #1717), I thought it would be a good time to write an updated post on getting the most out of industry events.  Over the years I have been to a lot of conferences and trade shows.  Attending various industry events can be a great way to stay up to date on new developments in the space, meet with current and potential business partners, and drive new business.  But, getting the best return on your trade show investment (time and money) takes more than just showing up at the show on opening day and hoping for the best.  So, I here a few ideas to help you get the most out of ad:tech San Francisco or whatever your next trade show happens to be.

Set Some Goals
Personally, I like taking vacations where I can kind of “wing it” when I get to the resort and decide what to do once I’m there.  Having every minute planned in advance isn’t my idea of a relaxing week on the beach.  But, traveling to a trade show isn’t a vacation.  Each industry event represents an opportunity to get out of your routine and find ways to grow your business.  The best way to do that is to have a plan set up before you get to the show.  Make a list of what you want to accomplish at the event.  It should be pretty specific, with some individual goals and ideas of how you want to achieve them.  Just writing down “grow my business” or “meet my affiliate managers” isn’t very useful.  Get as specific as possible on exactly what you want to get done.  Is there a specific issue you want to discuss with one of your business partners?  Is there a company you need to meet with to get some new business going?  Are there any key industry issues you need to learn more about?  Write them down and then make plans to get each one accomplished.  If you can’t come up with any specific goals, then you might want to reconsider attending a particular show.

Schedule Meetings in Advance
Hopefully, you will have a list of people or companies that you really want to meet with during the show.  One of the biggest mistakes you can make is just expecting to figure out these meetings when you get to the show.  Especially during a bigger show, people often get incredibly busy.  Just because one of the people you want to meet will be at their company trade show booth during the show doesn’t mean you can catch them by just stopping by whenever you happen to have a minute.  Get in touch with the people and companies you really want to meet and schedule meetings with them in advance.  Don’t miss out on an important meeting with someone because they were busy when you stopped by their booth to see them.

Be Flexible
I can pretty much guarantee that at least one and probably more of your scheduled meetings will not start or finish on time.  A lot of people schedule their meetings pretty close together during the show and then when one meeting runs long it can throw off everything for the rest of the day.  When you expect this to be the case, you will be a lot less stressed out when it actually happens.  One of the best things you can do is schedule a bit of extra time between your meetings.  That way, if one meeting time gets out of whack, it doesn’t create a chain reaction that messes up your next five meetings.

Check out the Sessions
Not every trade show or conference provides great session content.  But, I know a lot of people who head out to Affiliate Summit or ad:tech and never bother to check out any of the sessions.  Whenever you are heading to a show, take a look at the agenda and pick a session or two that look like they might be interesting.  If the session starts and you can tell pretty quickly that it isn’t going to be quite what you hoped, you can always leave.  But, don’t just assume that all the sessions are a waste of time or you risk missing one that could be really valuable to your business.

Networking Events (aka Parties)
It wouldn’t be an online marketing conference without at least a few big parties.  My most important piece of advice here is not to expect to get much (if any) business accomplished during one of these parties.  It could happen.  Some networking events are more conducive to having conversations with other attendees.  But, many of them are loud, packed with people, and generally crazy.  I do recommend checking out a few parties at each show, but don’t expect to get much actual business done.

Meet New People
How many new industry connections do you make every day?  I think it’s probably safe to assume that you don’t have a bunch of online marketing pros that you have never met wandering around your office each day.  If you are active on forums and discussion boards you may “meet” a few new people, but the numbers are pretty limited.  A conference can bring together up to several thousand online marketing professionals all in one place.  This provides you with the opportunity to meet lots of new people in a short amount of time and you really can’t duplicate the experience anywhere else.  So, get out there and make some new connections.  This could be specific people you want to meet or just random folks you meet during the event.  Make a point of starting conversations with random strangers at every opportunity.  You never know when the person sitting next to you in a session or standing behind you in the coffee line could be a great potential business partner.  The only way to find out is to meet as many people as possible.

Even if you have the most incredible experience at the show, met everyone you wanted to see, identified a bunch of new business opportunities, and took away some great tips from the sessions, none of it will make much of a difference to you if you don’t actually follow through on things after the show.  Think about how many people actually followed up with you after the last conference you attended.  When you compare it to how many people you met with, I would bet the percentage is pretty low.  Lack of follow-up is a common issue for conference attendees.  You get back to your office after a show, you’re probably a bit jet-lagged, there is always a lot of work to catch up on, and you find yourself slipping right back into your normal work routine.  The next think you know a week has gone by and you can’t remember a lot of the conversations you had with people at the show.  You look at a card someone gave you and can’t even remember what the person looked like or what you spoke about.  The longer you go, the less you remember and the less likely you are to ever follow-up.  So, make it a priority to get in touch with your connections from the show and figure out ways to move things forward on your discussions.

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