Getting the Most From a Trade Show



The conference season is upon us and companies around the world are going to be descending on San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Cologne soon.  Some folks may not know this but there is actual business that goes on at these shows.  I’m serious!  It’s not all just developer rants, free swag, and beer.  I can tell I already lost some of you.

  • Define your show objectives now
  • Tier your targets for meetings
  • Contact those companies
  • Book your meetings wisely

Going to a show to get business done is work, trade shows aren’t a vacation and you need to prepare for them as such.  That’s not saying you can’t have fun, some of your best networking and relationship building is going to be done after the expo closes.  You just can’t show up to those parties completely smashed.  I’ve seen everything from leads passing out to CEO’s coping a feel on their interns.  Don’t be that guy!  Have a drink, be social, but take it all in moderation.

Everyone should be starting to book their meetings in the next two weeks so this is the time to start getting ready.  Sit down and identify your goals from a company and individual standpoint.  Are you going alone to evangelize your business or do you have multiple members of your team that will be there for staff development as well?  Use this time to educate your junior members, don’t have them in meetings where they are adding no value.  Have them on the expo floor demoing the new tools or in the sessions learning about the latest trends in the industry.  Your executives and biz dev types need to be the ones running the meetings.

Once you have your goals and objectives set you should target and identify your meetings.  Use your own network, LinkedIN, or the conference sessions and speaker list to see who is going to be attending this year.  Don’t book “meetings for meetings sake” it wastes your time and those you meet with.  Tier your targets into three groups and start from the top.  That way you know you’ll get the meetings you need and they will be worthwhile.  Once you get an acceptance, schedule that meeting immediately in Outlook or Google (or whatever you use) and make sure the other attendee’s are notified.  So where should you meet?

This is key as it will effect your scheduling.  Not all of your meeting will be at the show itself so you need to be aware of that when you’re booking them.  At GDC, for example, many people will want to meet at the“W” Hotel near the show and it is quite convenient   Because of that it is usually packed with people and I typically avoid trying to do meetings there.  The W is great for networking, but try to find somewhere a little quieter for your meetings.  Nothing is going to get done if you and your attendees spend the entire time saying “Hello” to everyone walking by.  Now if your meetings are near one another, a half hour slot should suffice for an introduction meeting.  Use your own discretion if this is a client or you have specifics to discuss.  Also check your walking times between meetings and make sure you have time to get from one hotel to the show or another hotel.

I’ll deepen this discussion in further posts but in summary:

  • Define your show objectives now
  • Tier your targets for meetings
  • Contact those companies
  • Book your meetings wisely

I’ve been doing this for many years, if you have any questions at all feel free to reach out to me!


So you have identified your targets, booked your meetings, and now you’re getting ready to head to San Francisco.  Guess what?  No matter how well you coordinated it’s all going to go to hell.  Meetings will reschedule, people will blow off the meetings, and somehow the two of you will end up different locations (Pro-tip:  Don’t schedule meetings for “A” Starbucks – there’s a million of them).  Side rant, Starbucks is the worst place in the world to schedule meetings, everyone does it.  It’s going to be loud, crowded and you’ll get nothing accomplished.  It’s like the “W”, only smaller.

Confirmations: Send an email to simply confirm your meeting, sounds simple… few people do it.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had meetings get moved or cancelled at this stage, had I not emailed them to confirm the meeting I’m sure no one would have let me know and that is my time wasted.  Late in the week before the show send an email to each individual you are meeting with.  In the email include the following:

  • Time of the meeting
  • Location of the meeting
  • Picture of yourself (Not that one of you playing beer pong from Facebook)
  • Your mobile number
  • Request their mobile number

Here you’ve confirmed your meeting and you’ve given them the information they need to reach you at the show in the event they need reschedule.  Make sure you get these out in time for people to read them before they leave the office and hit the road.

Packing: You can buy new socks in San Francisco, it’s harder to get business cards.  Make sure you pack a lot of them, if you’re doing your job correctly you’ll run out.  Also make sure you print out your schedule.  Google Calendars and smartphones are awesome, until an entire tradeshow is taxing a wi-fi connection and deep in the bowels of a convention center there is no cell service.  A physical copy will always be ready for you.  I also like to jot down a few key points for each meeting on my schedule, that why if I only end up with a few minutes to chat I can make sure my key points are expressed or questions get answered.

At the Show: Once you are at the show there are three things you should always have on you.  Business Cards, your physical schedule, and a pen.  Hand out cards to everyone you talk to and make sure you jot a note down on the back of any card you receive.  I’ve been doing this for fifteen years now and I STILL get home with that one card that I’m going “Who the hell was this?”.  Take a moment at the end of the day to write yourself a reminder on the back “Met with Adrian – iOS developer”  Easy enough.  Make sure you are picking up any industry and trade magazines.  Some of the national organizations put together brochures and booklets about companies in their country, you can often get good contacts and leads there.

Finally.. be kind to one another.  Introduce people that you know but don’t know one another and when you do so say more than their name.  “Rick, this is Jay, he is a business development consultant.  Jay, Rick is with XYZ company and they just started publishing iOS titles”.  These rule also applies at parties and mixers, don’t be “That guy/girl”.


As the show doors close and you wistfully dream of actually sleeping you still have a good bit of work to do. First off, don’t worry about that cough.  It’s called con-crud and it’ll pass in about a week.  Second off, start and schedule your follow ups.  While you were at the show you should have been grabbing all the business cards you could find and networking your butt off.  Now it’s time to put all that information to work.  Within the first three business days of your return, one week tops, you should have accomplished the following:

  • Entered all the business cards into your CRM (you do have a CRM don’t you?)
  • Connected to all the contacts via LinkedIN
  • Followed up by email or phone with each person from whom you received a card

Following these three simple steps will be a huge help to you in the weeks and months to come.  The notes you jotted on the back of each card will help you remember who was who, that’s why we did that.  Take the contact data and any notes from meetings and enter them into your CRM so you have that information down the road.  If you don’t have a CRM solution don’t worry, I’m going to do a post soon outlining the options and my recommendations.

Next you need to reach out to all those people on LinkedIN.  When you do this, do NOT use the standard LinkedIN blurb.  Take 20 seconds and write a one line note to your potential contact.  It is more personal and it makes a world of difference.  When I get connection requests from people I don’t know on LinkedIN I reject them flatly if they don’t take the time to introduce themselves.

Finally outline any upcoming opportunities and deliverables that may have come from your meeting and follow up with everyone via email.  Let them know you appreciated their time and move the needle a little further in your relationship by taking that next step.

GDC and the other shows we go to are great for networking and getting face time with the people we work with all year long.  By archiving that knowledge and building on it after the show you’re going to set yourself up for a much better batch of results when it’s all said and done.

Have fun at the show everyone, I hope to see you there!

February 6th, 2017