Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Plan for a Great Convention & Trade Show Experience

My first convention & tradeshow experience was overwhelming and I felt incredibly under-prepared for the experience. So, for those first-timers out there, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your first-time industry convention & trade show experience.

TRADE SHOW

This is basically a huge marketplace for all of the suppliers and services related to your industry (well.. all of the ones that were able to afford a tradeshow booth!) Their goal is to sell stuff, get their name out, and get you to sample their products or at least have an in-person experience with their company, brand, and product or service. Tradeshows are often very easy to get into and many companies give away free passes in order to get people in the door. The vendors have already paid to be there, so the price for admission into a trade show is often just to keep the general public out. With a convention badge, you're usually able to breeze in and out of the trade show floor without any problems.

The "trade show floor" as it's often referred to (which is just a big room), is typically a very noisy place with little sound proofing, lots of people walking around, and many, many, many things to look at. When it comes to fairly large conventions, you could probably spend an entire day just visiting each trade show booth. Over the years, trade shows have also become a secondary workshop experience, often with live and useful demonstrations that may or may not be directly related to the product being sold. Service companies used to have a difficult time at trade shows because they didn't have a physical product for people to play with, so now they've resorted to providing educational experiences to pique the curiosity of those just passing by, or for their already loyal clients who are looking to learn something new.

To Get The Most Out of a Trade Show Experience:
Know what you want and/or need before you hit the trade show floor- because once you get inside it's incredibly easy to get distracted- ESPECIALLY when it's your first time! Vendors design their booths to get your attention, so if you go in with a plan, you'll be less likely to be distracted. Before you hit the tradeshow floor, take a list of the things you're looking for while you have a map of the trade show floor and vendor listing in front of you. If you're in your hotel room or enjoying lunch, it will be much easier to plot your course than once you're in the middle of all the chaos. By putting on a set of "blinders" and just going to the booths you want to visit or focusing on the products you want to explore, you'll be able to get in and out much more quickly and have a lesser chance of feeling overwhelmed with information you may not need right now. Of course, this isn't to say that you shouldn't look at anything else, of course you should follow your curiosity, but be prepared to spend a lot of time if you don't have a set plan before walking in the door.

CONVENTION

Generally everything that isn't the trade show, is considered the convention. This often includes classes, workshops, live demonstrations, speakers, and maybe even industry competitions. Many conventions will have multiple speakers and classes happening simultaneously, which allows the convention to attract more people by splitting them up among various different rooms and speakers- that will attract a smaller niche of people. Sometimes conventions will schedule the same speaker to be in different places throughout the day so that if you miss them once, you might have the opportunity to see them again somewhere else.

If you know that a particular speaker is popular, and you really want to see them, than you better plan ahead! It would not be unheard of to arrive 30 minutes early for a presentation just to get a seat. Some people will "stake their claim" on a seat by leaving a brochure or coat where they want to sit and then return later, but of course you risk losing any personal items if you walk away. Most presentations will begin right on time, so definitely plan to be there at least 10 minutes in advance if you'd like to get a good seat. If you sit near the front, you're generally more likely to understand what the speaker is saying even if they move away from the microphone and you might even win some giveaways if you're within easy throwing distance! People who sit near the back generally aren't incredibly interested in the presentation, so there tends to be more chatter in the back of the room, unless it was the only spot left because so many people arrived early!

One thing that a lot of people tend to get turned off by at Conventions is when they go to hear a speaker and then the speaker closes their presentation with a sales pitch to buy one of their products or one of their sponsor's products. It's definitely not the best way to close a presentation, but it's important for the attendees to know that generally speakers at conventions aren't getting paid to present. Usually they agree to put themselves on the spot because they have something to sell or that they want to gain support for. Some people really just like to help others and one hour is just too short an amount of time to provide really valuable information, so they offer DVDs or seminars as a way to get a more in-depth experience. If they sell something, you don't have to buy it, and hopefully their presentation is rich with information even if you don't buy their product. Just know that this is very common and in some places it's expected. The fees that you paid to attend the convention were generally to pay for the space, the convention materials and goodie bags, as well as the salaries of all the people who put the show together and made it run, but not often for the presenters.

To Get the Most Out of a Convention Experience:
Just like the trade show, it's good to start with a plan before you start exploring the schedule. I have a journal that I always take with me to workshops and conferences. It helps me review what I wanted to get out of the last experience and keeps me focused on what I'd like to get out of my next experience. I find that I do best when I start with just three questions that I'd like to know more about or find answers to. These questions then help me filter information BEFORE I start looking at the program, so that I can stay focused on what I really want to accomplish. It's easy to be swayed by presenters who are popular, just to get a taste of their star qualities, but if you make your decisions based on personality and not information, you just might walk away feeling a little like you didn't learn much (although, if they're popular it's a slightly safer bet because they probably have the presentation skills down solid if they get a lot of attention.) You're best off if you bring a water bottle with you since there aren't always water coolers in the room, and even if there are, you might have to crawl over people to get to it. Use your journal to take notes, but to also ask questions during the presentation so that if you get the chance to talk to that person afterward, you'll have the question right in front of you even if it slips your mind.

FINAL THOUGHTS

What I enjoy most about trade shows and conventions is the opportunity to meet other people doing interesting things. Often times I find the most interesting people aren't even on the stage, but sitting right next to me in the chairs. Take your business cards- LOTS of business cards and make an effort to get to know more people by asking for their business cards as well. Everyone likes to feel important! If you get invited to an after-party, always say yes and go! It's a great way to get to know people informally. You never know when someone will have the perfect solution to a problem that's been bugging you for a long time! Sharing your challenges with others is a great way to meet people and find creative solutions. If you go in with a plan of what you want to come away with, your experience will be exponentially more informative and rewarding. For more WPPI specific tips, visit: http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2009/02/wppi-what-to-pack-bring.html

PS. ALWAYS BE COURTEOUS TO OTHERS
You never know when the person sitting or standing next to you is someone you really should get to know. So, when someone is talking to you, put your phone away and give them your full attention. If you must text or talk on the phone, excuse yourself from a conversation first so that you have given the person you're with an opportunity to do something else as well, rather than feeling ignored by your interest in what's happening on your phone.


Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing these helpful tips and an insight to the tradeshow and convention. It will be mine and my husband's first time at the convention this year, so we're really excited. Looking forward to meeting you in person at the "Giveaway Gala" party. Would like to thank you in person for how much you give of yourself and what you contribute to the photographer community. Sincerely - Diana

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  2. These are definitely some great tips to remember especially for first timers. Trade shows can be very distracting and you must stay focused and stick to the plan that you came there with.

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  3. I always pay the extra dollar to get my banner display done professionally. I find it really makes a difference to have a display that really stands out.

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