11 Secrets of Successful Trade Show Attendees

Photo: © Depositphotos.com/Irkusnya

No matter whether you’re an exhibitor or a show organizer, there are often times when you may also be walking the show floor as an attendee.

Do you know how to make the most of that role?

Here are a few strategic tips for before, during, and after the show that will make you more productive as an attendee.


  1. Do your homework. Know who you want to meet and what you want to learn. Make a list of exhibitors, both those you are familiar with and new ones you’d like to know more about. Book appointments with those you especially want to have conversations with.
  2. Download the show’s app, if there is one. Granted, some are more helpful than others, but most at least give you the opportunity to browse the list of exhibitors. The better ones have a way for you to create some kind of wish list or shopping cart of exhibitors so you can create a game plan in advance. You’ll probably also get onsite updates from the app as well.
  3. Follow relevant social media channels to stay updated. Use the assigned hashtags to see news from both exhibitors and the show organizer.
  4. Brush up on your networking skills. I did a podcast interview with Cathy Jennings, author of Make Your Connections Count, on how to prepare for networking opportunities at events. This is especially important if you’re an introvert. (Here’s the link to listen to Part 1 and Part 2 of that interview.)


  1. Plan for meaningful interactions, using the information you gathered pre-show. But also be prepared for serendipity in those unexpected connections you may make. Sometimes that pivotal contact is the person sitting next to you in an education session, or across the table from you during lunch.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers. Convention centers often have temperature variations from one part of the building to another, so come prepared – especially if you’ll be sitting in any of the breakout rooms, which tend to be chillier. And when it comes to shoes? Comfort wins over fashion any day!
  3. Bring plenty of business cards. No, not just for entering exhibitor drawings (although I know you’re probably as guilty of that as the attendees in your own booth), but because you’ll also want to exchange contact information with the people you meet. Even with all the tech gadgets everyone carries, many people still prefer to hold onto a physical business card. Plus let’s face it … they really can be a conversation piece sometimes!
  4. Take advantage of the social opportunities the show offers. Yes, you’re there to do business, but there’s also a lot of fun to be had. Most shows have some kind of reception or awards banquet where you can meet other attendees. At EXHIBITORLive in Las Vegas, there’s tradition I enjoy: Dinner with Strangers. I’ve met a number of fascinating people at these informal gatherings where eight to ten attendees sign up to eat together at a particular restaurant.
  5. Stay safe and healthy. Just like when you’re exhibiting, you want to drink plenty of water and avoid the temptation to eat too much junk food – you’ll want to keep your energy up for all those activities! Healthy food is often harder to find, but you can usually at least get a banana or apple in the convention center gift shop. And regarding safety, one simple thing you can do is remove your name badge when you leave the trade show area. You don’t need to be advertising who you are or where you’re from to complete strangers on the elevator or elsewhere!


  1. Sort through all the materials you’ve gathered each day and discard what you don’t need. Rip out any magazine articles for later. Take pre-paid shipping labels with you so can ship home anything that won’t fit in your suitcase.
  2. Once you’re back home, take a few minutes to sort and file the items you did bring back. I know firsthand how tough it is to find time, but it makes far more sense to take the necessary action while it’s fresh in your mind. At the very least, attach sticky notes on the items of interest with prompts for what you need to do next with it. And don’t forget to sort through those business cards you received and send connection invitations on LinkedIn.

So there you go! Now you know how to get more out of your next experience as an attendee, no matter what show you’re attending.

© 2018 Marlys K. Arnold  (from the February 2018 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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