Trade Show Tips: How to Get the Most from Conferences, Expos, and Shows

As an eCommerce solutions provider, the Seller Labs team travels to a lot of trade shows and events each year. I’ve been with Seller Labs now for over five years, which means I’ve attended my fair share of events — working the booths and walking the floors. As the event planner for Resonate, I’ve also seen the inner workings and behind the scenes. 

Over the years, I’ve discovered some trade show tips that can help attendees maximize their experiences. With trade show season upon us (Join us at The Prosper Show in Las Vegas on March 23-25, 2020 — our own Jeff Cohen will be presenting — and be sure to use the code EXIV817902 to save $100 off your ticket), I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned over the years.

Trade Show Tips for Before You Leave

Print and bring business cards.

Yes it’s a digital world, but yes people still rely on old-fashioned print business cards being passed from hand to hand. There’s something comforting about exchanging the tangible object. If you don’t have business cards to give, and you’re doing all of the taking from others, you’re selling yourself short by giving others no chance to contact (or even remember) you. If you exchange business cards, it’s a square deal — a relationship and equal exchange. It’s also much more memorable and likely that you’ll synch up for future opportunities.

Plan your agenda in advance.

Most multi-track events (like The Prosper Show or IRCE) will publicize their agenda months in advance. Look through it and plan out where you want to be. Are there two sessions happening at the same time? Is one of them also offered later on in the show? By planning where you need to be ahead of time, you’re less likely to miss out on an important session or networking opportunity.

Also, if you’re attending this trade show or conference with a few members from your team, split up! So often we see groups from the same company moving from session to session together. If you split up before sessions and regroup afterward, you can share the wealth. More coverage also means more slides to share later and better understanding between team members.

Trade Show Tips While You’re There

Wear comfortable shoes.

Yes, this one is silly, but you’d be surprised how many attendees I see in high heels and formal business shoes, struggling to make it across the trade show floor because they’ve been walking around with contorted feet all day. You can look professional and be comfortable at the same time. Everyone at the show knows it’s a lot of walking and standing, and while it’s best to leave the Crocs and Chacos at home, no one is going to blame you if you’re rocking some Allbirds or Børns. In fact, they’ll probably think you’re smart and realistic and you know the trade show drill.

Disconnect when you need to focus.

Chances are, there will be at least one or two sessions that you’re really excited about, sessions that you know are going to give you the knowledge and tools you need to improve parts of your business. If you’re headed into one of those sessions, disconnect! Yes, we run online businesses, but you can focus on education for just one hour. Turn off your notifications. Let your team know you’re unavailable. If you really want to focus, be “old fashioned” and take notes with pen and paper. Plus, writing things down also helps you retain information better as well. 

By the same token, if you’re in a session that’s less than exciting, resist the temptation to switch off and respond to emails or texts. Try to stay focused, remember that the presenter is an expert, and see if you can’t still find some gold nuggets from that session.

Don’t get swept up with giveaways.

I can personally attest that it’s difficult to balance the world of practical and fun trade show giveaways. There will always be something new and different that you want to get your hands on. However, prioritize the vendors you want to speak to first. Meaningful conversations with people who can help grow your business are so much more important than trinkets and tchotchkes. This will also make packing to go home easier. Think DCC (Don’t carry crap).

Buy the travel stapler.

I learned this one the hard way, but it is now at the top of my packing list whenever I go to a conference or show. Bring a stapler! There are some vendors (like Seller Labs) who will have one in the booth, but most don’t. If you talk to someone in a booth and they give you a business card and a flyer about their business, you should staple them together. Physically associate the person with the business. This will help you exponentially when you return to the office.

Offer to take a speaker for a drink or out to lunch.

This is one of Jeff’s favorite things to recommend. You have the agenda, so you know who is speaking. Speakers get their time on stage, and then they get bombarded with questions afterward. If there’s a speaker you’re excited about, find them earlier on in the conference and offer to buy them a drink or ask if you can have lunch with them. It’s especially beneficial to do this before they get their time on stage because you won’t be competing with everyone who was in their session. 

The Final Word on Trade Show Tips

Attending trade shows and conferences may force you to step out of your comfort zone a little bit. If you need the impetus to go to your first, just remember this: Everything on the internet is available to each and every one of your competitors. Meeting new people and seeing new offerings gives you an advantage. So get out there (and wear comfy shoes)!

Stay Up to Date on All Things Amazon and eCommerce

Connect with Seller Labs