While tradeshows can be a great way to source valuable new ideas, learn about new products, and form valuable partnerships, we all know even the most disciplined attendee can be distracted from their objective. Each year, we attend or exhibit at dozens of conferences across the country, so we understand the desire to socialize with friends we haven’t seen in a while, or the allure of exploring foreign cities. However, we all want to leave the conferences with valuable contacts, information, or tools that make us more successful in our personal and professional lives. There’s no denying that the giveaways, luncheons, after-parties, and games are all great ways to network, learn, and have some fun, but it’s important to have an exhibit strategy.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your conference experience:

  1. Have a plan of action

    Before you leave for the tradeshow, consider the challenges your organization is currently facing.- Are there looming budget cuts?

    -Are you unhappy with your current vendor?
    -Do you need to find a more efficient way to perform a cumbersome task?
    -Is there possibly new technology you could implement to increase efficiency?
    -Are your facilities in need of updates?

    Understanding your current challenges will help you formulate a game plan for exploring the exhibit aisles, making sure you make the most of the typically limited time you have to speak to vendors.

  2. Visit companies you know

    This is a great opportunity to connect, or in some cases reconnect, with the companies that already have your business. Speaking with a representative face-to-face about your experiences with the company can not only open up dialogue about how the company can better service you, but also improves your overall relationship with them.

  3. Visit companies you don’t know, but might want to

    Our advice is to research the exhibitors beforehand and make notes on the possible vendors or providers you’d like to visit. The exhibit hall can sometimes be overwhelming, so having a loose itinerary of the companies you definitely want to learn more about will make your exhibit day experience more manageable.

  4. Grab plenty of literature

    Take advantage of the literature the exhibitors provide. A lot of the information is not only intended to sell the company’s specific product, but to inform you on trends in your industry or solutions similar organizations have found beneficial. Takeaways are also great reminders of the companies you visited during your whirlwind of a day, and can facilitate discussions once you’re back in the office.

  5. Attend breakout sessions

    Breakout sessions are often times the greatest value add for attendees of a tradeshow. Take advantage of the fact that there are so many subject matter experts in one place for you to learn from. As with exhibitor lists, tradeshows will typically share the breakout session schedule ahead of time, so be sure to factor that into your plan of action.

  6. Ask questions

    Don’t be afraid to ask the booth representatives questions. That’s why they’re there, after all. Any representative worth speaking with will be more than happy to take time to speak with you about your unique issue and how their company can help. Many will even offer to host post-exhibit discussions to facilitate a more in-depth conversation. If it’s a product that could really help your organization save time or money, take them up on the offer! The worst that could happen is you decide you’re not interested in what they can provide.

  7. Make connections / network

    Sometimes networking can be awkward – we get it. Speaking with people you don’t know may not come naturally to you, but tradeshows are the perfect opportunity to exercise your networking skills because everyone there is open to conversation. Plus, you already have something in common with the attendees and exhibitors – your industry. Use that to your advantage. Spark a conversation with someone while standing in line for a drink, pay attention to people’s name badges (which usually have the person’s organization, title, and name listed – a built-in icebreaker), and know that all of the exhibitors want nothing more than to talk to you. The beauty of networking is you never know when a seemingly meaningless conversation can lead to a mutually beneficial relationship.

Tradeshows are intended to bring a large assortment of solutions uniquely designed for your industry together in one place. Spending just a little bit of time game planning beforehand, and executing on a simple strategy can ensure that you not only have fun, but bring back valuable information for the betterment of your organization and your career. Visit every booth, grab literature (and the coveted giveaway!), listen to all of the great speakers, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Using these tips will help you get the most out of your tradeshow experience, so that you can bring ideas and solutions back to work, along with that tote bag filled with free swag.

The MidAmerica team will be at the upcoming Texas Association of School Business Officials (TASBO) Annual Conference from February 27 – 28 in Fort Worth, Texas. Make sure to stop by booth 1015 and say hello!

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