Get the most out of trade shows

There are certain special dates that punctuate our professional calendars. Every couple of months, yet another conference, networking event or trade show tempts us out of the office.

We can’t go to every single one, though. Unless an event is local, there is usually a lot of thought involved in strategically choosing which business events to attend throughout the year. There are the matters of cost, logistics, time away from the workplace- so how do you know which events to attend and which to skip?

Before deciding where you will invest valuable out-of-office time, make a schedule and define your goals.

Once you've chosen the best trade shows or conferences for your current goals, use the following categories to set specific goals for yourself or your team.

Networking: trade shows give us a chance to speak to colleagues and experts in our field and get a perspective on happenings outside of our cities, regions or countries.

Meetings: These can be arranged by the group organizing the trade show, or on a case-by-case business. If you are going to be around people you rarely have a chance to connect with, set a time and place for a structured meeting

Education: Look at the lectures, learning sessions or round-tables you can participate in. If you are not there to sell (or even if you are), take some meetings so you can learn even more about what’s going on in the industry. Also see if there is an opportunity to present some of your expertise.

Discovery: If this is a vendor show with lots of products and services on display, have a clear idea of what your business needs. This could be anything from new trendy products or more general ideas that you will apply to the running of the business.

Sales: With so many people around with all different needs, this is an opportunity to “sell” your skills or your experience, and actually sell products or your brand. Connections created at business events can have big payoffs weeks, months or even years later. You never know who you are going to meet!

If you can fill in each category with a solid, measurable goal, you'll be sure to make the most of your time.

For more tips, see our other trade show survival guides:

SH's Trade Show Survival Guide

The Trade Show Survival Guide: Part 2