Dos and don'ts when visiting a trade show

A woman attending an exhibition

Even if you aren't exhibiting, a business exhibition, event or trade show in your industry can offer a brilliant chance to research your market, make new connections and gain inspiration. Here are some useful tips to help you make the most out of your visit


Plan ahead and set show objectives

The key to getting the most out of a show, when you have limited time, is to set objectives. You might aim to visit a particular list of exhibitors, catch up with specific contacts, or collect a certain number of business cards.

The more thought and effort you put into your visit, the more you will get out of it.


Not only will you save money by registering in advance (most trade shows charge an on-the-day registration fee which is usually about £10), but you will also be first in line for the latest show news, offers and benefits via e-alerts.

You will invariably receive full show previews in advance, plus invitations to networking events and details of special show promotions.

Give yourself enough time

If you are visiting an important show for your industry, then you'll meet a lot of people you should be speaking to. Time will run away with you, and you likely won't achieve some of the things as you set out to.

Allow enough time for unscheduled conversations as well as planned meetings.

Take advantage of everything that's on offer

The closer you are to an exhibition or industry, the more likely you are to fall in the trap of "seen it, heard it, done it, got the t-shirt".

Don't be complacent. Look at what the organisers and exhibitors are offering in terms of seminars and conference sessions; you may learn something new.

Be open to new ideas

  • One of the great advantages of exhibitions is that you often learn about concepts that we have never considered before. In some cases, when we are stuck with a tricky problem, it's the idea that we haven't given due consideration to that offers the best solution. So take a good look around, and be prepared to listen.


Expect to "do" the whole show too quickly

By their nature, exhibitions are places where meeting people can happen naturally - but, equally, you can quickly become frustrated if you keep missing the person you most wanted to see.

If it's feasible, allow for more than one visit - even the smallest of events may need two day-long visits, or at least two half days.

Just focus on the businesses you came to see

You may be surprised by the number of competitors offering similar services, or an innovative solution that could be a better fit for you.

It's worth considering start-ups and lesser-known companies who have the drive and enthusiasm to win your business, and who will work hard to keep it. At the very least, it does no harm to stay informed about what's out there if your current suppliers start to let standards slip.

Book too many meetings

If you plan too much, to the extent that you have arranged back-to-back meetings, you will only set yourself up to fail. While you need to make the most of your time at the show, you will stifle opportunities for chance meetings if you book your diary solid.

Be afraid of being cornered by an exhibitor

Keep an open mind about who you might speak to. Make eye contact, smile, and remember that a quick stop to speak with a keen exhibitor could result in an invaluable find or an enlightening conversation.

You can always gracefully extricate yourself by mentioning a pre-arranged meeting, if the chat really isn’t beneficial to either of you.

Waste the information gathered at the show

You will likely return home with a bag full of brochures and a pocket full of business cards, and if you['re not quick on the draw they will never see the light of day again.

Don't waste these snippets of information - follow up as soon as you can after the event, before your memory fades.

With thanks to Phil Powell of the Association of Event Organisers

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