Lisa Thompson

‘Tis the season, people: Get your swag bags ready, fill up your favorite Hydro Flask and ditch your hoochie mama shoes, ladies. Trade show season is upon us, and it’s time to make like a Boy Scout and be prepared.

Whether you’re going to a conference as an attendee or a trade show exhibitor, you’ll want to get pumped up and prepped for the event beforehand—that’s key to your success. Most conferences are a solid whirlwind of activity for 3–5 days, and the more you know before you go, the better your experience will be. Take it from our seasoned trade show vets here at Firespring. They’re about ready to drop so much knowledge, you’ll need an extra swag bag to collect it all.

First, there’s getting there.

You’ll probably need to travel, and you’ll likely be carting along some company equipment. Brendan’s word of advice: Think security. “If traveling for business, get a ‘smart backpack’ that has a dedicated laptop compartment—it allows me to keep my laptop safe and secure while going through airport security. I’m a fan of this one.”

And a quick reminder from the Department of Oops, I Forgot It Again:

Phil: “Travel with understanding co-workers, especially if you run the risk of forgetting your ID on the way to the airport.”

Tawnya (we can’t confirm or deny, but possibly related to Phil’s tip): “Don't leave the house without your ID.”

Julie’s advice for actually getting to your hotel is to plan in advance. “If you’re flying in somewhere, try to arrange for transportation upfront, and do a price check in advance on Uber/Lyft/taxis/airport shuttles. Taxis and shuttles can sometimes be cheaper than a rideshare and won’t keep you waiting an hour if there are no available drivers in your area,” (she said at 3:00 a.m. from her last hotel check-in in Nashville). On a related note, if you live in Nashville and need a side hustle, we hear there’s an opportunity for rideshare drivers during the graveyard shift.

Once you’re at the conference, it’s go time.

Are you an attendee? Julie has some nuggets of wisdom to help you make the most of it.

  • In the exhibit hall, don’t take freebies without talking to the vendors for a moment. Sponsors and exhibitors are often the people whose money makes the conference possible. If you give them a little time, you may discover a new product/service that can make your life easier.
  • If the show doesn’t send out materials automatically, use your phone to snap pictures of slides during presentations. Also, download the conference app—you’ll be able to get good info there and connect with other attendees.
  • Use the conference hashtag and tweet if they have one. You’ll see what other people are talking about—consider switching sessions if there’s a presentation relevant to your needs (especially if the one you’re at is not).
  • Bring a portable phone charger and Mi-Fi. There may not always be accessible outlets or free Wi-Fi in the conference area.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking around all day, and you don’t want your feet to hate you later.
  • If you have dietary restrictions and the conference organizers didn’t ask for that, let the servers know at lunchtime. They often have options for kosher and vegan already on hand.

Are you an exhibitor? We have your back there too.

Here are some must-haves and need-to-knows from the rest of our veteran crew.

Get set up as soon as you can. You’re going to be in the booth for several days, from 8–5. Get the booth set up and then go enjoy the sights if you’re in a new city—it’s probably the only time you’ll have to be a tourist. Also, become good friends with the convention center staff; they're the ones filling the coffee and food. —Brendan

Have everything you need on hand, from tools to extra Ethernet cords (you’ll need them, I promise) to plenty of protein bars and water. Expect to be busy enough that you won’t leave the booth to eat or drink. When you talk to attendees, ask them why they’re there—you’ll learn more than if you ask something product-related. Oh—and write your notes after conversations so that your future self will know what the heck you’re talking about when it’s time to follow up. —Phil

Some quick tips: Come up with a temperature rating system so you can prioritize follow-ups later. A big screen and a speaker will easily draw a crowd. Don’t sit. Don’t whine. And maybe the best of all: Stock the back of your booth with good candy. —Molly

Don’t be afraid to talk to anyone. Don’t assume you know what people need. Don’t forget your business cards. Now that we have the don’ts out of the way, here’s a big do: If you’re at a conference that has you set up in a ballroom with booths around the edge and tables in the middle, get out and mingle. In between sessions, people will go hang out at the tables—they won’t necessarily come to you. So go to them. Ask what they’ve been learning. Maybe you’ll discover a way your company can help them. —Paige

Remember that you are the face of your company. Don’t stand around and talk with your coworkers, take phone calls, text or look like you’re not interested. Have short, concise answers ready for the most typical questions attendees might ask. And be in control of your conversations (I mean, people are lovely but you can’t afford to listen to someone’s life story). —Janet

Need help with your exhibit? Janet’s a pro when it comes to trade shows and she has your back. Give her a call at 402.437.0006, or get in touch via email at janet.wurtz@firespring.com.

And from our Keeping It Real department, Tawnya shares her top five pieces of advice for smart and savvy exhibitors everywhere (which may or may not include some inside jokes from years of trade show experience):

  1. Take tranquilizers before setting up a booth for the first time.
  2. Don't stretch when sitting in a chair while your cohort is giving a demo as you may fall out of the chair into the person receiving the demo.
  3. Make sure your booth is wind-resistant so that it doesn’t topple over when people open the outside doors.
  4. Make sure your booth is shipped to the right place.
  5. Whatever you do, no matter how tempting it is, don’t drink too much the night before a trade show.

If you can’t get enough of the conference life, follow us on Twitter to see what shows we’re making appearances at—and if you’re there too, come say hi!