How to Attending Your First Trade Show

When is the last time you attended a training event or trade show in your field?  If the answer is never, or not recently now is the time.  Attending trade shows, vendor events and training seminars are a great way to stay current in your field. Technology impacts every single job in the workforce today, and technology is always advancing.

Grow in Your Field

Getting out of the four walls that make up your work environment is important for your career development.  It is easy to put up blinders and keep doing things the way you or the person who trained you has always done them.  Break out of that habit, be an innovator.  Question the processes and methods in which you use, is it part of a detailed plan for success or is it more of this is how we have always done it?

When we stop learning new things, we stop growing.  There will never be a point in your life where you know everything.  Your brain is an amazing organ, it will keep storing everything you throw at it, so this isn’t an issue of data storage but of perception and will to achieve more.

You probably can point out the people at work who avoid learning.  They usually lack adaptability, can be difficult to work with and close-minded. The benefit to these people is that they do have experience BUT they got experience with one thing that worked okay and has settled on using that for the rest of their existence. They stopped learning and stunted their growth.

There are so many people out there that get stuck doing what they have always done in their career, but you don’t have to be one of them.  In order to keep moving forward and pushing yourself in your profession, you MUST keep learning. It doesn’t matter if you have been doing it for 5 months or 15 years, get out there!

One of the easiest ways to keep learning is to get out of your work environment every once in a while. See what else is out there, what are employees at similar companies doing, who has the best technology, and who is leading the industry – learn from these people.

Help Your Company 

Companies that don’t progress usually are not around a very long time.  As technology grows, so does the efficiency of machines and programs.  A simple example would be investing in software that tracks inventory, it could reduce human error and help the company plan better. Systems like this are expensive but there are always new ones on the market, that ultimately drive down costs. Often time it is surprising how affordable technology is now. If companies are interested in growing then they need their employees to keep learning and adapting.

The next step is to talk to your boss, but don’t worry I’ve got you covered. Think of this as a cheat sheet. There is no doubt that these shows cost money to attend, so let’s figure out why it is a worthwhile investment.

  1. In person is always best, now I am not slamming the emailers out there as I am an avid one myself BUT if you have the chance to go and talk to multiple companies in the same day and find what you need for a project, what could possibly be better? You can nail down exactly what you need for a multitude of projects in a few days.
  2. Networking is huge at these events.  They usually have a networking group meeting for people who really want to grow their connections.
  3. You are immersed in the latest and greatest in your field, you can plan whole projects and spec out entire systems when everyone you need to talk to is in the same place.

Still on the Fence?

Are you or your boss still wondering why go when you can just look up the vendors online without ever leaving your desk? Hmm, that sounds like someone who might be stuck in their ways! There is a huge benefit to getting outside the walls of your company and talking to people about their products.

Almost every booth will have their products or equipment on display for people to look at, this is going to give you so much more than a picture on

the internet.  Your brain is going to be able to come up with many more questions and ideas looking at something in real life than just scrolling through pictures at your desk while you can hear Brian CRUNCHING on an apple.

Most booths have demos and product experts.  You might even get to meet the sales representative for your area, talk about networking!  These events have an energy, people are excited to be there and excited to talk about their products.

You have a specific frame of thinking for different environments, right? You think differently at work than you do at home, or when you are out with friends.  Break the frame your work environment created and make it bigger, deeper and more colorful.

Before You Talk to Your Boss

Before you go and make your pitch remember that you are asking for money to do something, and for someone else to cover for you while you are gone.  If your company hasn’t participated in a show like this before it can be difficult to get approved.  Make sure you have the answers to the following questions before you speak with them.

  • Look ahead at the projects you have planned for the 1-3 years if are part of your companies capital planning team you probably have a big list.  Can you do a lot of the legwork for these projects all in one week?
  • Pick out some vendors that you would like to see, this doesn’t have to be a complete list but you want to show them you did some research.
    • Include some stats, like how many vendors participated last year and the average number of people who attend.
  • Why are you excited to go? Put into your own words the benefit of you and your company.

Money – Figure out the logistics of cost and timing beforehand so you are going to your boss with a complete package.

  • How much does it cost to go to the show?
  • Is it local or will you need to book a hotel?
  • Will you need to fly or rent a car?
  • What are the dates of the show?

If your boss needs a bit more swaying, offer to a presentation on what you learned at the show. It shows them that you are engaged and truly want to go to learn something new in your field.  In any case you should do this anyway, it is great for your own records and sharing information.

Side Note: doing a presentation after returning from an event like this is an awesome way to lock in future opportunities for shows and expos.  Once your boss and maybe their boss see what is out there, and what you were able to learn in a short time frame they will be happy to set aside the funds for this kind of trip.

How to Prepare for a Trade Show

So you got permission from your boss! Awesome! Now it is time to prepare. You might be thinking prepare for what? I am just going to go talk to people! Yes, you are but they are going to want specific information from you on your projects.  Many times companies send their sales and engineer to these events, so you can really dig into all the technical aspects of products you are looking at.  In order to get the full experience, you need to be prepared.


  1. Register, the sooner you register the less expensive it will be.
  2. If necessary book any travel arrangments.
  3. See if the show as an app.
  4. Check out the dress code and make sure you dress accordingly.
  5. Pack comfortable shoes! Blisters are never fun.
  6. Take some business card for any networking you do.

Exhibitor Research

  1. In order to get the most out of your experience think of all projects that are planned for the next one to three years.  Make a list and jot down a few directions the projects could go.
  2. What is the budget for each of these projects? Having a clear idea of the scope and budget will ensure your trip is a success.
  3. Check out the exhibitors. All events like this have a floor plan and exhibitor list.  Look for companies that fill the need of your project. Remeber to think about all the aspects of your job, when you are at an event like this. Coming back with a great idea for the company is always to your benefit.
  4. Decide the order in which you are going to see the booths – if it is a big show that has multiple rooms or floors having a plan will keep you from getting overwhelmed.
Note: The booth vendors usually scan your entrance badge, that way they have your email you info on whatever you asked for.

At the Show

Events like this are usually low stress, however, there is a lot going on so it is easy to get overwhelmed, which is why you already prepared! Here are some tips to make sure you have the best experience possible.

Talking to vendors – once you figure out if you like a company its time to take it a step further and get some information that will help you and your boss make decisions later.  These are general questions, all of them may not apply to you specifically.

    • Where are they based and who is the local rep
    • What is the approximate cost of the item
      • they do not like to give this information out, but be firm and ask for a ballpark value – write it down! This will look great in your presentation
    • The average lead time for a product
    • The is the average lifetime of a product or equipment
    • What the wear and replacement parts are
    • If they offer field service and tech support
    • How many have they sold/are currently in use

Document your day it is easy to get confused about who you talked to about what make sure you have a documentation plan

  • Take notes, bring your own notebook and pen.
  • Snag business cards and pamphlets, so you have a visual of the product or service.
  • Take pictures, most booths allow photography. Plus they will look great in your presentation.
  • Review your notes halfway through the day to make sure you have all the information you need, you can always go back and ask more questions.

Back at Work

Hopefully, you had a great experience at your trade show, and have returned to work inspired by everything you saw.  Now it is time to remind your boss why they sent you.  While it was a fun experience and good for personal development, you did cost the company some money and they want to see what they paid for.

Organize your data from most to least relevant. Make a powerpoint or write up about the specific items, products, and services you saw for each project. Include costing, pictures, specifications and any other relevant or technical data.  Include options if you liked more than one of the vendors, include vendors or products that won’t work for you or are too expensive.  Dig into details if that’s what your boss or superiors need to call the trip a success.

Final Thoughts

Shows are an awesome way to engage in your field even if you are still in college.  You will probably be able to get in for free too.  Check out local convention centers, you might find an something worth checking out!

Thanks for stopping by,


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