Without a doubt an industry trade show can be an extremely beneficial professional networking event for any business. Not only does your business have its best products and services on display but it is an unmatched opportunity to get to know both your customers and other firms in your industry in an informal yet business-oriented atmosphere. For some professionals this can be a daunting prospect. Networking and contact development is a complicated task just by itself, so it's no surprise that many people find it difficult at first.
Networking is about more than just talking to people. Even though the art of casual conversation may strike fear into the hearts of some businesspeople you'll find that with proper preparation the talking turns out to be the easy part.
So what should you prepare?
Networking experts unanimously agree that the primary key to good networking is to have a goal. Having a concrete goal in mind, be it simple or reaching for the stars will always be more effective than approaching the trade show with a vague notion of what you'd like out of it.
When you know what it is you want, you'll find yourself 'naturally' steering toward that goal in conversation - and almost as importantly steering away from distractions leading you away from your goal. Keeping on track comes easily to most people and is important when discussing your products and services. Keep in mind that your track has to lead somewhere, and until you have that goal in mind you'll always find yourself drifting
Next, it's important to sit down and ask yourself what information you'd like to have by the end of the trade show. You might have a good idea of what kind of things clients want to know about your business, but until you sit down and formalize these thoughts into actionable items you'll always drift off-topic. Make a written plan of what you'd like to know by the end of the trade show. Once you have your list of unanswered questions you can begin to categorize them according to who you think can best answer them.
When asking questions you should consider speaking with clients, other business people in your industry, or competing firms. Some questions will be applicable to all three groups. It's important to remain cordial when speaking with other people at trade shows – as you can leave a lasting impression of both yourself and your business. If you have questions prepared in your mind beforehand a trade show can be like a series of professional business consultations tailored specifically to your business.
Once you have a goal in mind and questions determined, you can begin arranging a battle-plan for the exhibition itself. Don't underestimate the many benefits of knowing as much as possible about the trade show location and the list of potential attendees. Every trade show these days has detailed information available before the event on the Internet. Print out the list of exhibitors and the map of the hall if it's available beforehand. Highlight the trade show booths you want to visit most frequently.
It may seem silly at first, but you may want to mentally rehearse walks around the hall in your mind as you look at the map. As you imagine yourself stopping at each booth go over your list of questions and focus on the ones you might find answers from at that particular booth. Ask the questions aloud to yourself but don't bother imagining answers, just mentally move on until you've visited every booth and asked every question. It may seem ridiculous but this type of rehearsal will help you be more relaxed when you are actually at the trade show and faced with innumerable distractions. Of course, in reality you won't be walking around, map in hand peppering other attendees with a list of questions, but by practicing this way you are not only mentally reinforcing your goal, but also giving yourself confidence in your plan and subconsciously, confidence in yourself.
When you are at the trade show itself, you will feel more relaxed and able to network more naturally as your preparation will guide you away from distractions, and your mental practice will have given you confidence in your plan.