Research the exhibitors.Every trade show publishes a list of exhibitors online well in advance of the opening. Use this information to make a list of stands you want to visit, ranking the importance of the meeting from high to low in case you get caught up in an interesting discussion with the first exhibitor you visit and run out of time to see everyone on your list. Lots of exhibitions also publish a floor plan so you can familiarise yourself with the lay out, make a strategic route plan and avoid getting lost down winding corridors.
Set up appointments.Contact the exhibitors you want to see ahead of the show to ask if you can schedule a meeting time. This will give your day structure, but be careful not to double-book yourself, or agree to an unrealistic schedule that will have you running around like a headless chicken. Factor in queues and security when scheduling your day, there will probably be thousands of visitors at the exhibition so it can take longer than expected to get across an exhibition hall because of the queues and crowds.
Take a stack of business cards.You probably won’t be able to stop and chat at every interesting looking stand, but lots will have a bowl for business cards somewhere on their stand, so drop yours in and the exhibitor will contact you after the show, when they can give you their full attention. If collecting business cards, take a picture of each one on your phone, there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to follow up with an interesting lead because you’ve lost their business card! If chatting with lots of people then you can also take a note on the back of each business card with a detail about the discussion or person that will help you recall them after the show.
On a practical note…Take a bottle of water and wear your comfiest pair of shoes. Exhibitions can be extremely long days, with far more walking than you may plan for – the largest shows which fill the ExCeL in London, for instance, cover 90,000m2 of space! If you’re planning on buying products at the show then remember to take cash as not all exhibitors will have a card machine and cash points can be few and far between in the larger venues.