Marketing Channels, Marketing Planning & Reporting

6 Tips for Attending a Trade Show or Conference


As a small business owner, there will be some events you want to exhibit at and some you just want to attend. I’ve talked in the past about how to make the most of exhibiting, so now I’m sharing my top tips for attending a trade show or conference.

Being a visitor at one of these events can be just as, if not more, useful than having a stand. You just have to get organised and take advantage of all the opportunities they offer. Planning ahead is key, as is maximising the day itself.

Looking for great events to attend in the UK? Check out my favourite small business events.

With that in mind, I’ve split this post up into two sections. The first covers the lead up to the event, and the second deals with the day itself and the days after. By making the best use of both of these times, you can be sure to make it a success!

The lead up to the event…

1. Get prepared…

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As is the case with most things, preparation is key! One of my biggest tips for attending a trade show or conference is to plan ahead with plenty of time.

First, make sure you’re all set from a business perspective. Depending on where the event is, you’ll be away from your desk for a whole day – if not longer, if travel is involved! So have the day marked in your diary weeks in advance. That way you can make sure you limit stress on the day itself. There’s nothing worse than panicking the morning of, realising you have a non-negotiable task on your desk!

This also means dealing with practical things like arranging cover if you have a physical store, figuring out parking or public transport, and – most importantly – buying your ticket/registering in plenty of time!

And finally, make sure you have a healthy supply of your up-to-date business cards on hand. Conferences and trade shows are a great opportunity to network (more on that later!), so don’t leave yourself short.

2. Tell people you’re attending

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Don’t be shy! Let people in your network know ahead of time that you will be going along to a particular event. It’s tempting to think you only need to shout about this if you are exhibiting, but that isn’t the case.

Think about all the LinkedIn connections, podcasters and Instagram accounts you interact with online but have never met in person. Business events and conferences are a fantastic way to make new connections as well as get to know existing ones better.

Also, sharing that you are attending on your social media platforms, newsletter or blog is a great way to get involved in the event before it even begins. Use relevant hashtags and tag the event itself if it has an account.

Not only will this help build buzz around the event, but it will let other people who may want to connect with you know that the opportunity will be there. You can even reach out and make plans to meet up in advance.

Especially if you’re travelling to a conference, it’s a great opportunity to catch up with contacts who are local, even if they don’t attend the event themselves.

3. Make appointments in advance

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Speaking of reaching out in advance, if there are stands you absolutely want to spend time on or speakers you want to chat to while you’re there, it’s a good idea to see if they are taking appointments before the day. Not all business owners will, but there’s no harm in asking! Attending a trade show can be a whirlwind of a day, so this sort of organisation can make all the difference.

Booking a slot means you don’t have to panic that the person you want to speak to will be too busy to fit you in, or that you’ll run out of time to go for a chat. This eliminates any chance of regret when the day ends and you haven’t fit them in!

Additionally, it shows the business owners themselves how keen you are to speak with them. And if it’s someone you potentially would like to collaborate with, that will get you off to an excellent start.

On the day and afterwards…

1. Visit stands

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Well, yeah, obviously! But you’d be surprised how little time can be left in your day when you rush from one talk to another. Most events have a schedule full of workshops, speakers and presentations, so make sure to plan in time to visit the exhibition as well.

Remember why you’re there! It’s tempting to hover at the back or check your emails when you have a minute. But that robs you of the opportunity to do what you came for.

So, check the schedule of the event. Is there a time slot that doesn’t offer any interesting speakers or workshops? Block that time to visit the stands you want to see. And if you love all the talks they have on offer, make sure to arrive early as that gives you the opportunity to get the lay of the land and talk to people in the exhibition area before the rush.

If you bought a ticket, it was likely because you knew there would be people there who could help your business grow or improve. Whether that is suppliers, software developers, or experts you’re thinking of outsourcing to, you saw an opportunity that merited registering for the event. So make the most of it! You never know what a five-minute chat could lead to.

2. Take the opportunity to network

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This is where topping up your supply of business cards and sharing that you’ll be attending a trade show on social media pays off. It puts you in a great position for networking!

Whether you’ve arranged to meet someone on the day or not, there are so many chances at these events to connect with potential collaborators or clients and fellow small business owners from your industry. From sitting next to someone at a talk to queuing at a stand, you’ll organically meet so many interesting people.

Trade shows and conferences are long days, and everyone could use a break to rest their feet and have a chat! So if there are people in your industry that you see are heading along or if you start chatting to someone who turns out to be an interesting contact, ask if they fancy a coffee.

3. Remember to follow up afterwards!

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And finally, after attending a trade show, don’t just put it to the back of your mind as a nice day out. Be proactive!

If there were people you networked with who you could see being useful collaborators or mentors in the future, be sure to add them on LinkedIn. If there are fellow business owners you chatted with who inspired you, follow their social media accounts! And you can always drop a friendly message alongside the follow to say how nice it was to meet them.

And when it comes to the stands you attended, if anything stood out that you feel would benefit your business, follow up. Don’t shove a business card in your pocket only to lose it and never quite manage to remember the brand name!

I hope these tips for attending a trade show or conference have helped you feel prepared for your next event. Go forth and make the most of the opportunity!


If you are interested in reading more about this topic, have a look at these:
6 Tips for Exhibiting at a Conference or Trade Show
7 Lessons I’ve Learned in Business Networking
How to Win New Business Through Public Speaking
How to Make Your Local Business Event a Success

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.