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Attending a Tradeshow for The First Time: 10 Observations

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HSMAI MEET in Washington, D.C.

Although The National Conference Center attends anywhere from 18-25 tradeshows in a year, I personally (meet the author) had not attended one until last week at HSMAI’s national show in Washington, D.C. I had a visual in my mind based on photos, but wanted to compare my perception with the show. In order to gain tradeshow experience and observe, I headed down to HSMAI Meet, formally HSMAI Affordable Meetings tradeshow at Walter E. Washington Convention Center on the second day.

Attending a show for the first time or the 200th? Here are 10 things I observed during my first time on the floor:

  1. Booth selection does matter - it helps to be closer to the front, on a corner, near food or even by your CVA or CVB. It is worth the extra money spent for strategic placement.
  2. Weather such as rain affects foot traffic - rain seemed to play a factor in why so many people were unable to make the show. Maybe it was a mix of budget cuts but many blamed the weather. If it’s bad weather at your next tradeshow, observe if it affects attendance.
  3. Scavenger “hunts” prompt conversations – Scavenger hunts that send attendees to speak with different exhibitors is a well-played tactic. Virginia Tourism Corporation did a great job of setting up a scavenger mission for attendees to visit 10 of the Virginia booths for an entry to win a Survival Bag equipped with all gifts Virginia themed.
  4. Some attend for all the wrong reasons – Although this made up a small percentage of the attendees, some individuals walked booth to booth without the slightest “hello” and just handing over ID badges to be scanned for a chance to win.
  5. Twitter cultivates relationships – As many know or have heard, Twitter helps others connect with those who have similar interests or who are in the same industry. Year-round those 140 characters exchanged transform into friendships and believe it or not, in the meetings industry people you’ll eventually see or meet at tradeshows.
  6. Conversations make you more memorable than the giveaway – It’s true. The attendees who were there to find venues, cared less about giveaways and more about making connections in order to find a venue perfect for their group.
  7. You have 10-15 minutes to pack up – As an exhibitor, make sure you can adequately put away your booth. Between the time the show ends and the time you have to be walking out, it appears as though you have 10-15 minutes. No one is really backing up before the show ends but when it ends, lights are out and in unison everyone packs their booth. Luckily, our sales managers know what they’re doing!
  8. Highly likely you’ll know more people than you think – As someone who thought they’d only know fellow colleagues in the booth, I was pleasantly surprised to know people walking by or at other booths. Once you’re the industry, you may also be pleasantly surprised to see who you run into at a tradeshow.
  9. Pay close attention to details – If given folders or paperwork by the tradeshow, be sure to closely examine everything. During the show, HSMAI offered one-on-one meetings between exhibitors and attendees. However, there were 2 versions – one meeting in the booth or the choice of appointment based meetings one-on-one before the show on Thursday. Without close attention to detail, exhibitors could easily dismiss the papers and consequently, miss their meeting with planners or vice versa.
  10. Groups generate more groups – At booths it seemed the more people you had talking in a circle with you, the more people gathered behind them. Sending the friendliest sales people who enjoy working tradeshows is any organization’s best bet; it brings more people to want to come talk to you.

What were some of your observations the first time you attended a tradeshow? How are they different from these or shows in the 21st century?

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