Attending trade shows like the International Window Coverings Expo, which is being held in Nashville on March 8 to 10 this year, can be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your business/career in this industry. The exhibit hall can expose you to new products and vendors, and the seminars are provided to expand your knowledge.

Whether a trade show is an expense or an investment depends on who you ask. Some people look at them and see an expense that they aren’t sure they can afford. It’s true that if you attend a trade show, you will likely have the expense of things like transportation, food and lodging, in addition to the cost of admission.

However, others see trade shows as an investment that they can’t afford to miss. If you see one new product line that you can add to your business, or learn one thing in a seminar that can improve the way you operate your company, then any money invested in attending the show will come back to you down the road.

Trying to “wing it”—by which I mean wandering aimlessly through an exhibit hall—is an almost guaranteed way to feel frustrated with the experience and come away from the show thinking it was more of an expense than an investment. You need to go into the show with a plan for how you will gain the most benefit. Here is my advice for making trade shows the best possible experience.

Before You Go

  • Book your hotel (if you will be staying overnight) and make any other travel arrangements as soon as possible. Hotels will fill up quickly and you don’t want to have to book a hotel 20 miles from the event if possible.

  • Register for the event and decide which seminars you are going to attend. Some seminars will have limited seating, so again, lock those in as soon as you can so that you don’t miss out.

  • Scan the list of exhibitors and make notes on which booths you want to visit during the course of the expo. If you have a printed copy of a map of the exhibit hall, you can mark the booth locations so you can plan out the most efficient way to visit all of them.

  • Determine a budget you can spend on “expo specials” that some of the vendors may be offering.

  • Pack a notebook, pen or pencil, and a pad of Post-it notes.

Once You Are There

  • Make sure you know how much time you have between seminars to visit the exhibit hall and vendor booths.

  • During the seminars, take lots of notes and ask questions to clarify anything you don’t fully understand. (Most presenters prohibit video or audio recording of their seminars.)

  • Once you go to the exhibit hall, double-check your list of vendors that you planned to visit to determine if anyone had to back out of the event at the last minute. Adjust your plan accordingly, then head out to your highest-priority booths. After you go to all of your “have to see” stops, then you can meander through the exhibit hall and meet the other vendors.

  • Don’t forget to grab a snack or lunch in between seminars if possible. Keep in mind that the lines at the food outlets will probably be fairly long at times, so plan accordingly and have snacks on hand if you think you will run short on time. (Just don’t be “that guy” in the back of the seminar snacking on a bag of potato chips.)

  • You will do a lot of walking, so make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes.

  • The dress code is “business casual.” Even though you may be hundreds of miles from your home city, you are still representing your business and should look the part.

  • If you plan on collecting a bunch of brochures and catalogs from the vendors in the exhibit hall, make sure you have space in your luggage to transport them home. Also, keep in mind that you will have to carry them with you the entire time you are in the exhibit hall, so only take items that you think you will actually need or use.

  • Take advantage of opportunities to network with other attendees. Don’t forget to bring business cards with you to the event. You never know if someone you meet will have a friend or relative in your home area that you might be able to connect with.


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