5 tips for not going nuts at trade-shows

Trade-shows and conferences are known for being great places to close on deals, investigate new business opportunities and extend your network, however, when one has over 8-10 meetings/day, it feels more like a marathon than valuable business time. Here are a few tips and recommended behaviours to help you survive the next upcoming event and bring more value to your time away from the office.

1) This is not just about meetings!
This might sound quite a no-brainer but here is where I am coming from: each trade show seem to be a competition about who has the most meetings and how fast you can run from one to another. Some companies might think that walking down the aisles and take time to look at what’s going on is, in fact, a waste of time. Trade-shows and conferences are not just a time to meet the ones you already know but and foremost to take advantage of exploring new ideas and dare to step into the unknown.
Several big name trade-shows (I can related to the ones I know in the high-tech industry like Electronica, Embedded World, LogiMat…) also come with a smaller attached conference or pavilion with new technologies and associated ideas. The beauty is that your entry ticket gives you (in most cases) access to those smaller, industry focused, exhibition areas with possible food for new thoughts. I recommend taking 2-3 hours and explore those areas. It is a good opportunity to escape the tight meeting schedule and give you time to walk at a leisure pace and get your mind on something new.
2) Use school hours for your back to back meetings
I have been in the situation, and know many of my industry colleagues, where my meetings are all either 30 or 60 minutes, giving less than enough time to move from one booth to another to make it on time without risking a heart attack.
In the meantime, I have been a fan of school hours (45 or 50 minutes depending on where you live), as they still allow you to block a 1 hour agenda time but gives you 10 to 15 minutes to run to the bathroom and/or move from one location to another.
The trick it to keep the calendar invitations with a 30 or 60 minutes interval but, at the start of the each meeting, make a clear statement to the meeting attendees that the effective time for the meeting is either 20 or 45 minutes respectively. This will help keep the focus on time and will allow everyone to be respectful to the next meeting crew using the conference room.
3) Plan your meeting topics
When you have a 20 to 45 minutes meeting, time is of the essence. This means that you might not have much time to figure out what you all wish to talk about. If you do, that would be a quick social meeting and that’s okay but the outcome might not feel as productive as wished.
I recommend that, the week prior of the meeting, you send a short email or better yet, include in the meeting invite, the topics you wish to discuss and the outcomes you want to reach. This will help everyone in preparing (hopefully) in advance and have a clean productive time.
4) About handling business cards
You have no idea about how many times someone tells me “I think I still have a business card somewhere” and pulls a crumpled up piece of paper from the back of the wallet as the business card.
Let’s be serious… if you wish to make a good impression, a business card is the least you must have to introduce yourself. If you are running out of them, it means either that you did not plan early enough or that you were assailed by a bunch of unknown potential customers or suppliers (a good problem to have). A few solutions if it happens: reach for your smartphone and immediately (not two days later) send a digital business card to the people you are meeting with. This could be as simple as
  • A very short email stating: “Many thanks for meeting me, below is my contact information” and make sure your email signature on your smartphone does not say something like “Sent from Microsoft Outlook for iOS”.
  • Using a business card management app (i.e. CamCard) that allows to send your digital business card via SMS, Email, WhatsApp…

In addition, I strongly recommend separating “received” business cards to the ones that you have with your name on, this way, there is no possible error in giving away someone else’s contact information when starting a meeting.
Finally, invest in a business card management app (check what’s available for your smartphone). Those allow to quickly taking a picture scan of a business card and digitalising the content to go immediately into your contact database. When you have a 10 minutes break with a coffee or in the evening after the meetings, take time to process them so you can immediately use the information to get in touch with the people you have just met (and see my next point).
5) Share meeting minutes
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When going from one meeting to another, the information overload is massive. In some cases, the information gathered at one meeting might impact the content and discussion of a subsequent meeting at the same trade-show. For this reason, taking minute notes is critical.
There are many way to take meeting minutes and you might have your preferred one; I’d like to make a few proposals:
  • Don’t pop-up your laptop on the table and start taking meeting minutes in your preferred application! Laptops take space and real-estate space on meeting tables is limited. In addition, your laptop is really a hot target for theft at event like conferences and trade-shows. Unless you really have to… just don’t take it along
  • A notebook is always welcome. If you use US-letter or A4 format, choose a spiral bound so you can take less space on the meeting table. Use a good pen, pencil or fountain pen but, in all cases, make sure you have a spare.
  • My top choice are tablets: they are light to carry, battery lasts the full day, you can do presentations and you can easily take notes. Also, you can quickly check your calendar for scheduling follow up meetings. Just make sure it is fully loaded and that you have a light bag to carry it (and not forget it somewhere).

In addition to taking meeting notes, make sure you share them. It is a great way to ensure that you are following up on the actions, that you are keeping contact with the people you have met and keeps you on top of everyone’s priority list after many meetings have been done.

Trade-shows are great opportunities to connect, reconnect and explore new opportunities. It is not a contest about how many people or how many meetings you have. It is about networking and displaying professionalism about meeting management. People will thank you for your punctuality and everyone will have a little less stress at the end of the day. So, get ready and plan well… your next trade show is coming up.