10 Oct Etiquette at Today’s Midwest Technology Trade Show
CHICAGO – Like so many industries tied to the tech sector, the trade show producers took quite a beating over the last couple years. Things seem to be bouncing back, though, and more and more companies are returning to exhibit at one of the big tech trade shows.
Yippee! Good news for trade show booth designers and the union electricians at McCormick Place. But what about for you and me who have to go and be trade show slaves for a few days? Well, here’s my advice on making the best of it.
First off, if you’re a tech trade show newbie, forget the notion of a regular work day.
When you’re doing show duty, it’s pretty close to 24/7. For one or two outings, this seems really cool and important. After a while, it’s the biggest drag in the world. Still, it’s good for the company so suck it up and try to look enthusiastic while you’re unloading the forty-seventh crate of brochures.
Look at it this way: if you’re lucky, most of this stuff won’t go back home with you.
Here are some tips for surviving the trade show experience. First off, dress for comfort. Even if you’ve never been to Las Vegas, Comdex is not the place to break in your new stylish shoes. Wear the most comfortable ones in your closet. Same with your clothes.
You may be forced to wear a hateful company logo Polo shirt, but choose the slacks that are most cozy and easy to move in. You will find yourself kneeling, sitting, dragging things and doing a lot of physical activities that OSHA wouldn’t approve if they knew about them.
Trade show work can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. No joke. I saw a guy get his finger cut off at PC Expo one time, so exercise caution at all times.
If you sign up for or are assigned a schedule for booth duty, stick to it scrupulously. There’s nothing worse than coming to the end of your booth shift and finding that your replacement is AWOL. Sometimes people think that being out of town (or even in town) for a show is a little company-sponsored junket. They are wrong.
Do your booth duty and then enjoy yourself in the trade show city, but don’t let your co-workers down.
It is fun and worthwhile to hobnob with industry people at trade shows especially as you get a little experience under your belt and begin to know people outside your own company. It can be easy to go out for drinks with a customer and really get to know each other – and it can get you into trouble, too.
The party atmosphere and three trays of buffalo wings don’t give you a rationale for divulging proprietary company information. Plus, you could get fired, so button your lip. If you’re intentionally meeting people because you’re planning to jump ship to another employer, make the contacts at the show but follow up later when everyone is back to their senses.
I have seen some outrageous things happen when otherwise normal employees are in trade show mode. People get into a Mardi Gras state of mind even in the most sober of cities when they’re in a group on the road, so be extra careful. Don’t meet someone and bring him or her back to the hotel room you share with a co-worker (yes, people do this).
Don’t drain the mini-bar and don’t rent adult movies and expense them. Don’t do anything illegal and don’t drag your co-workers to Nudes on Ice. It is much better to be recalled by others as prudish or dorky than as the wild man or woman of the bunch. Remember: you have to go back to the office next week and live all this down.
Resist the urge to pick up one of every vendor trinket that you pass. They get heavy going through the airport and the excess consumption will mark you as a trade show rube. If you’re smart, you’ll use your travels through the exhibit hall to really learn what competitors are up to and to meet prospective clients.
Trade shows are great environments for learning because everyone is happy to answer questions. Go to the vendor parties if you can get in. That’s where the real networking happens. Most of the time – here comes a gross generalization – the conference sessions that accompany big trade shows aren’t that spectacular. The exhibit hall is where the action is.
Wake up and pay attention to who’s doing what and you could be a big hero over the next quarter.
If your company doesn’t have a good trade show lead-tracking system, make notes on the back of every business card you receive. It’s astounding how much information about a prospective customer or partner you can take in and then immediately forget when the next smiling face enters the booth.
Don’t reply on memory. Make a note.
Finally, don’t forget those Doctor Scholl’s cushiony things in your shoes! No South African diamond mine has a longer work day than a few technology trade shows. It’s good to keep in mind that while trade shows are not exactly the heat of battle (I’ve never heard of anyone being promoted because of the stupendous job he did at a trade show), a poor showing can really hurt your reputation.
So get out there and smile! Send your workplace questions to Liz Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at email@example.com. Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of the The Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.