While discovering new products, services and companies is certainly a plus, the real value of trade shows comes from the people you meet and the connections you make.
Think of the last show you attended: what do you remember best about your last show outing? Is it that brochure you got at Booth 121 or that funny sales rep you met at the send-off brunch? We’re guessing the latter.
It’s the people and the experiences that really stand out—especially at a busy, bustling event like a trade show. And in the end, it’s these connections that are more likely to lead to strong, lasting business relationships that benefit all parties (and profit margins).
Are you taking advantage of all the networking opportunities your next trade show has to offer? Here’s what to keep on your radar:
1. Meet & Greets
Most trade shows offer up-front meet and greets before the event even begins. You might be able to meet keynote speakers, major exhibitors and more, or just take your time getting to know other visitors that you’ll be sharing the weekend with. Either way, it’s a great way to start off on the right foot.
2. Happy Hours
Every trade show has a few social events, such as happy hours and brunches. These often help take the pressure off and provide an opportunity to engage in more casual conversations with your fellow trade show goers. (And the free food and drink doesn’t hurt either!)
3. Panels and Roundtables
Though these may be more formal in setting, they offer a prime opportunity for identifying (and learning from) the movers and shakers in your industry. These sessions often include Q&A segments, which are useful for interfacing with those harder-to-reach, time-strapped exhibitors at the show.
4. Central Eating Areas
If there’s a central dining area—a cafeteria, breakfast buffet or even just a hotel lobby—try to make it a point to eat there or stop by at least once a day. You’ll meet an array of people in a relaxed, laid-back setting. You might even come across some of the big wigs at the event (because everyone has to eat sometime, right?).
5. Send-off Events
You'll typically find a big send-off event or breakfast on the agenda, before the show comes to a close. After a long few days it may be tempting to skip this one, but you shouldn't miss this final opportunity to follow up with some of the connections you’ve made. Use this time to further solidify relationships you've established throughout the event, as well as continue to make new ones.
Of course the trade show floor is a pleasant place to network (and it includes a show map leading you to who you want to see), but keep in mind your interaction time may be limited here. You’ll often find extra leeway to chat in more social settings, where you can ask multiple questions and get to know one another without the pressure of a looming crowd or queue.