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Have you ever given any thought as to why you go to a trade show? Most would probably say that it’s an opportunity to see the show and enjoy the town.


January 11, 2011
By George Olah

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Have you ever given any thought as to why you go to a trade show? Most would probably say that it’s an opportunity to see the show and enjoy the town. Others go because they have been attending a particular event for years with their colleagues and buddies. For many, it’s a pat on the back for work well done during the year. None of these is the right reason to invest the time to attend a trade show.

Nevertheless, countless attendees continually go because of the lure of locations like New Orleans, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Vancouver . . . and these are just some of the North American venues. There are many international trade shows held throughout the world in places such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, Milan, Moscow, and Beijing.

While the potential business opportunities and ideas are plentiful at these occasions, so are theamusements – golf, late dinners, gambling, entertainment shows, side trips and, of course, wine tasting into the wee hours. It is certainly enjoyable to have fun, but concentrating on such distractions makes for a colossal waste of a good show and is an insult to the show organizers and exhibitors who have invested much time and money to execute the event. It is also a waste of resources for your business, for you personally, and for your management.

Reflect for a moment . . . have you ever tried, as an exhibitor, to explain something to an attendee who is clearly hung over from the night before? Or as an attendee, have you ever walked a large exhibition hall after a long evening of dining and drinking? Or have you tried to sit through a seminar, if you made it there at all, after such an intense evening?

I have been fortunate to attend trade shows and events around the world both as an attendee and as an exhibitor. I have also been a show organizer. All of these roles require a lot of effort and work, if you are to get your time and investment back from the event.

A good trade show creates what the marketers call a positive buzz. This buzz is the excitement that a good show has and it is infectious. And those show attendees, exhibitors and organizers who catch this infection are the lucky ones.

So before you go, really sit down and decide the worth of the show to you. Read the show syllabus, research who is exhibiting, determine what is being shown, who are the special presenters – and forget about the two-for-one beer specials at the hotel. Before you hit the show floor, map out which booths you want to visit. Make a list of key points about what you want to learn. Write down the questions because I guarantee you will forget what you wanted to ask by the time you visit your 14th trade show booth.

And please prepare yourself physically. Convention exhibit halls found in Atlanta and Chicago, for instance, require a good night’s sleep, a GPS, rations of bottled water and the best walking shoes money can buy to complete the event trek.

There is another, more important, aspect of attending a trade show. You learn to trade ideas with other like-minded individuals outside of the confines of the office. For instance, I have discovered the pros and cons of many products simply by talking to – yes, wait for it – my competitors. Why? Because we were looking for the same product and the show was neutral territory where we could actually talk professionally and not be competitive.

With a little judicious planning and discipline you can maximize the time you will be spending at the event. Who knows? You may even come home from a trade show with more than a hangover, a glow-in-the-dark pen and a baseball cap.


George A. Olah has over 35 years of experience in training, marketing, and renting commercial appliances and equipment. He is presently the general manager of operations at ABCO Equipment & Supplies, a family-owned rental company located in Weston, Ont.