We recently returned from the IAAPA Attractions Expo, one of the largest trade shows for our industry. It was a huge year for attendance, with over 32,000 people registered and more than 1,000 exhibitors. Exhibitors and attendees experience this event in very different ways. I took a moment to try and view this event from an attendee's perspective, and I realized something important: IAAPA can be overwhelming. To make the most of your trip, it's important to create a trade show plan of attack.
This article is geared toward first-time attendees, but the tips here can be valuable even for trade show veterans.
First, understand what you hope to get out of the trade show. What are your objectives? This event costs time and money, so you don't want to waste the opportunity. Even if you receive a free trade show pass from a exhibitor, you still have to pay for flights, hotel, food, etc. Without a plan and specific set of objectives, you'll end up spending your time aimlessly walking around. At the end of the event, you'll either have accomplished nothing, or you'll spend the last day frantically trying to get things done.
Based on your objectives, make a list of all the vendors you need to visit during the show. Most attendees focus on the companies they will potentially do business with in the future. But I recommend also visiting your current vendors. It's a great way to meet face-to-face, especially if you've only worked with them over the phone. In addition, it's also helpful to schedule appointments with these companies ahead of time. These appointments are extremely valuable and make the planning process even easier. You'll know who you're going to visit, when you'll visit them, and what free time you have available to see all the random and cool exhibits at the show.
The education programming is another key advantage to trade show. Be sure to include the time and location of all the educational seminars you want attend in your plan. As exhibitors, we typically don't ever get to attend these seminars (or even walk around the trade show floor) because we're so busy at our booth. You're in a privileged position to spend your time where and how you want, so don't take these educational opportunities for granted.
No event is complete without parties and networking. For example, we co-host the FAB 5 VIP BASH with some great partners. It's a customer appreciation event with free drinks, food, music, and networking. The trade show floor closes at 6:00pm every day, so take advantage of the evening hours by attending as many of these events as possible. Some attendees even do multiple parties in a single night!
Lastly, remember to be flexible. Plans are great, but you're likely to run into hiccups; your appointments run long, you forget about an event, you get hungry and eat lunch instead of meeting with a vendor, etc. Be flexible and build in buffer time. This buffer time helps when your schedule is adjusted, and it's also helpful for simply taking a break. This trade show is long and can be exhausting. Sometimes it's nice to spend an hour sitting to enjoy a coffee, or even running back to the hotel for a quick nap.
As we see every year at large trade shows like IAAPA, it's so easy for attendees to become overwhelmed or distracted. After all, the trade show has roller coasters, carousels, zip lines, virtual reality, and a whole lot more. It's easy to get distracted by these cool exhibits when you're supposed to be talking to insurance companies or purchasing redemption toys. But if you make a trade show plan of attack, you'll know what you need to get done...and then you can spend your buffer time riding the roller coaster!