NADA 2020 is nearly upon us, kicking off another year of conventions, trade shows, user summits and other industry events.
There’s tons of great advice out there (including from MD contributor Amy Boehm) for making the most of industry gatherings, from common-sense tips for avoiding sore feet while making the rounds of the show floor to using unconventional (pardon the pun) tactics for making yourself memorable in a high-distraction environment. Research and experience have turned up a few pointers we’d like to share to help you make the most of your time spent at industry events in 2020.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.
As noted by our own Joey Little, winging it at a trade show may be tempting, but you’ll get the most value out of a conference by planning ahead. Peter Shankman has some sterling advice for convention goers that begins with a tip that seems obvious but might not occur to everyone: research ahead of time. Shankman suggests a reasonably bite-sized 20 minutes per day for three days ahead of an event.
Look into anything and everything useful: information on keynote speakers and other presenters, venue layout, nearby transit, estimated travel times and dining options close by are all worth familiarizing yourself with before you arrive. Rather than stressing over where to go, what to do and how to get there in a crowded, noisy environment, you’ll remain cool and collected while making the most of your time and energy. Set goals and reasonable expectations for what your desired takeaways from an event are beforehand. Consider skipping popular presentations that don’t quite fit your goals; instead use that time to walk the floor when it’s a little less hectic. Prior research allows you to strategize attending the presentations you’ll get the most from as well as affording yourself the best opportunities to network with those you’d most like to connect with.
Network (ahead of time, even!)
Speaking of, knowing who else will be in attendance can provide a leg up into maximizing your event experience. Beyond familiarizing yourself with who is speaking at a show or conference, contact the presenting organization for a list of exhibitors. You could go one further and ask for a list of registered attendees.
Depending on the organization’s policies, they may or may not be willing to provide this information, but some will go as far as providing contact information for fellow attendees to those who are registered themselves. If you can get it, use this information as a tool not only to prioritize how you’ll structure your agenda for each day at a show, but as a way to get ahead of the game and reach out before the event to attendees and presenters you’d like to make contact with.
Before cold calling or emailing, use social resources like LinkedIn to see if you have mutual connections who might be willing to introduce you to attendees you’d like to meet. David Adelman of Businesscollective.com also recommends reaching out via LinkedIn and email simultaneously for the best response rates, but advises keeping messages short and sweet- no more than five sentences at most. A quick introduction and request for a few minutes of their time during the event are all that’s needed. Persistence can pay off in such efforts, but don’t be pushy: remember that other attendees, speakers and presenters especially, may be busy preparing for an event themselves. Keep track of who you have contacted and who has responded. Bear this in mind when setting your schedule for the event but remain flexible with at least some of your time. Remember to put yourself out there, interact with fellow attendees, and allow for serendipitous meetings– you never know who you’ll meet and what long-term connections you’ll make as a result of simply striking up a conversation. Don’t forget to keep essentials like a couple of pens, a small notebook, and business cards on hand. These items prove themselves useful, even in the Instagram age. Someone always needs something to write with. Be the hero with an extra pen.
Take care of yourself.
While this also may seem obvious, attending a large trade show can be surprisingly exhausting. It’s easy to get caught up in the bustle of a convention and forget simple self-care.
If you want to be at your best and make the most of your experience, you’ll make time and do yourself a few favors.
Most are simple, like drinking enough water, taking vitamins and getting enough sleep. Take echinacea and bring Airborne or Emergen-C. Take it immediately if you feel the slightest twinge of sore throat or cough coming on. Crowded exhibition halls provide amazingly efficient places for illness to spread, and you definitely want to avoid coming home with what the musical instrument retail world refers to as “NAMMthrax”.
Consider, as Inc. Magazine suggests, staying at the hotel associated with the event. It may be a bit more expensive, but you’ll save time and energy, while usually being close enough to duck out here and there to freshen up or recuperate if needed. Presenters and organizers are also likely to be staying at associated hotels, and the lounge might be a great place to bump into them and a have a cocktail or two after the day’s events.
Such opportunities to socialize are golden, but don’t overdo it: there are few places worse for nursing a hangover than a convention floor. Even when socializing during an event, remain professional. As Stephen Key notes in the Inc. article above, you should take it seriously- even during cocktail hours and after-hours meetups, you’re still essentially working. You will get tired and shouldn’t sacrifice rest or your own wellbeing unnecessarily. Another gem from Key: bring two pairs of comfortable shoes and wear them on alternate days. You’re going to be spending a lot of time on your feet. Take care of them.
Plan ahead, be well, and enjoy making the most of this year’s gatherings starting with NADA 2020. We hope to see you there!