Trade shows can be overwhelming if you don’t plan ahead, and proper preparation (or lack thereof) can make or break your experience. So, whether you’re a trade show veteran or experiencing the controlled chaos of a show for the first time, it’s important to come prepared.
With trade show season on the horizon, kicking off with the Greater New York Dental Meeting, we developed a Dental Trade Show Survival Guide to help you make the most of your experience and avoid the common missteps that can make a positive experience more challenging than it needs to be. From tips on professionalism, to logistics, to what to do with your downtime, here is everything you need to know to survive a dental trade show.
1. Map out your “top 5” must-see vendors in advance
Trade shows, particularly large national meetings, have hundreds of vendors on site, so it is important to know in advance what your priorities are and where you want to spend your time. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to spend the day wandering through the maze of booths without any direction.
To get the most out of your experience, visit the online exhibit floor map or download the conference app in advance to determine which companies you want to visit and map out each location. It's also a good idea to reach out to your local sales rep to see if the company is willing to schedule an appointment time with you to discuss your individual needs.
Start with a top-five list so you can be sure that you reach your highest interest vendors, and if time permits then you can continue to browse the remainder of the exhibit hall at your leisure to learn what’s new. With a plan of action, you can be more efficient on the tradeshow floor, saving time to see more exhibitors, get that extra cup of coffee, or head off-site for some local sight-seeing.
2. Know your convention center
It’s important to have some initial working knowledge of the convention center, especially if it is a location you have never visited before, so you’re not dropped off on the wrong end of the site with a mile walk to the exhibition floor or stuck in a seemingly endless line to catch a taxi.
Most convention centers have online resources to help you navigate any complexities. The Javits Center – home of GNY – has a handy guide for getting to and from events by different modes of transportation. There you can get important information on parking options, train schedules, and even how to rent bikes through the city’s bike share program.
3. Dress professionally, but don’t forego comfort
Trade shows are first-and-foremost a business exercise. When you’re there, you are representing your practice and your personal brand, so it is important to dress the part. This is an opportunity to meet with peers, colleagues and industry experts, and you don’t want to be the odd-one-out feeling underdressed.
While professionalism is a must, comfort is also critical as you will likely be walking and standing for long periods of time. Since you will have no problem with that daily 10,000-step goal, reconsider wearing those new heels and trade them for your favorite comfortable dress shoe instead. Finding the right balance between comfort and professionalism will vary based on personal preference and experience, but it goes a long way toward establishing your presence at the show.
4. Bring plenty of business cards
Business cards may be slowly going out of style, but if you’ve got them, now is the time to use them. Don’t be shy about giving them away; trade shows are the perfect platform to strengthen relationships and expand your network.
If you don’t have business cards (and even if you do too), use social media platforms like LinkedIn to easily stay connected. Be sure to have your phone ready and apps downloaded for quick connection opportunities – it may be difficult to remember the names of everyone you met at the end of the conference.
5. Stay hydrated and bring a snack
Trade shows are a marathon not a sprint, and there’s a good chance you will be away from your hotel room all day. Exhibit halls often have very dry air and staying hydrated can be a challenge, so avoid spending money and bring a refillable container that you can refill throughout the day.
Likewise, be sure to bring a healthy, purse-sized snack with you for a mid-day pick-up as necessary. With the bustle of the exhibition floor, finding time for a full meal is not always an option, so coming prepared with a snack is a must.
6. Prepare for poor Wi-Fi and bad cell service
Exhibition halls can have spotty service and unreliable Wi-Fi, and these limited channels of communication make advanced planning all that much more important. If you’re travelling in a group, be sure to discuss a rendezvous point in advance in case you get split up.
While there is not much you can do about poor cell reception, you can prepare for bad Wi-Fi with a local hotspot. Most smart phones include Wi-Fi hotspot functionality, so be sure to familiarize yourself with how to use it if you’re not already. However, this can be a major drain on your phone battery, and that’s another factor to consider.
7. Keep your cell phone charged
If you have a cell phone charger or spare battery, be sure to bring it with you. With limited reception and large crowds congesting cell towers, convention centers can be a major drain on your cell battery, and that’s before the extra oomph you may need from your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Don’t get stuck without a charged phone, particularly when your colleagues are making plans to go off-site for after-show events. Consider purchasing a portable battery, or at the very least, bring a cord with you to plug in your phone when possible at onsite charging stations.
8. Work hard, play hard
Above all else, trade shows are exciting! They are a great opportunity to interact directly with vendors, learn what’s new, and gain some insightful tips and tricks. Be sure to spend quality time on the exhibit floor between courses and fill your evenings with local city experiences.
While it’s great to have fun on your downtime, it’s important not to burn the candle at both ends. You don’t want to get to the point where you’re paying for it the next day, taking away from the reason you’re there in the first place.
To maximize your time, consider securing a flight or other travel arrangements that gets you to your destination early or keeps you late, and take the opportunity to explore the city then. Be sure to check out any special events happening at the same time of the conference to make the most out of your visit. For instance, if you’re going to GNY this year, you can try to stick around on Wednesday, December 4 for the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting.
How Do You Survive?
Trade shows can be a great experience, and with the right preparation, you won’t just survive, but thrive. So, with convention season right around the corner, start planning ahead now to make sure you’re ready to make the most of your experience.
Whether you’re already packing for Greater New York, making arrangements for Yankee and Chicago Midwinter, or daydreaming for the next warm-weather conference destination, we hope you use our trade show survival guide, and we look forward to seeing you there!
Did we miss anything on our list? Be sure to comment below with any additional tips!