My business trip last week was to a conference for my industry. I was a vendor, spending three long days demo-ing my product in the exhibit hall. I was talking to a woman at a booth near me who’d never worked a trade show before, and realized I had a bunch of tips to stay healthy during a long show, so I thought I’d pass them on to you, and ask you for your tips, too.
The tips can be divided into two categories, personal management and exhibit management.
1. Bring 2-3 pairs of shoes to your booth each day and change every few hours. It doesn’t really matter how comfortable the individual pairs are–it’s the switching that helps fight foot and leg fatigue.
2. Drink a lot of water. It’s super-easy to forget to drink water, but standing all day in forced air can make you feel really strange and sickly if you don’t keep hydrated. Plus, if you’re drinking enough water you’ll be able to stretch our your legs more often because you’ll have to leave the booth to go to the bathroom.
3. Eat vegetables. Sometimes you’re kind of hostage to whatever they have to eat in the conference center, but if at all possible, walk out of the conference center for lunch and find some place that will give you at least a serving of vegetables for lunch.
4. Get out of the conference center at least once each day. Otherwise you’re like a veal in a pen. Take turns leaving with the other person in your booth. If there is no other person in your booth, bring up item # 12 below with your boss.
5. Don’t go nuts at dinner. Yes, this city is famous for its barbecue or pizza or whatever, but you don’t need to stuff yourself with it. Do you want to feel sick on the show floor tomorrow while you’re supposed to be talking to potential clients? If you do overdo it, try to stay up for a few hours afterwards so you don’t go to sleep right after eating. That’s how the sumos gain bulk–by eating and then going directly to sleep.
6. Ration alcohol. Again, it’s really tempting to drink like a fish when you’re out after the show each day, but draw the line at one or two. Dehydrated and/or hung over is not fun on a trade show floor. And the lighting in convention centers is bad enough; you don’t need any extra help making your skin look pasty.
7. Run. You’ll feel so much better if you do some exercise each day. Bring along a pair of athletic shoes. It’s counter-intuitive, but your feet, legs, and back will hurt *less* if you run or walk briskly around your hotel (outside, if weather permits) for 15 minutes or so in the morning before you go to the show. I also try to do 15 minutes of T-Tapp in my room to help my system stay healthy.
8. Bring a trashy novel or some other indulgence you don’t usually have time for. Take advantage of the fact that you’re out of the usual routine to do something you don’t normally have time for, like reading trashy novels or solving back-to-back sudokus.
9. Stay focused. What’s your team’s goal for the show? 8-10 hours of just standing in a booth sucks, but 8-10 hours of working toward a measurable goal is doable. (If you have no goal, see item # 13 below.)
10. Find a local place and befriend it. Strangely enough, for both of the last two shows I did I ended up spending some quality time a locally-owned coffee shops near the convention centers. It was really nice to be able to say "See you tomorrow" to the barrista, and feel like I had a little connection to the city in the midst of the daunting institutionalism of the professional conference experience.
You may not have any control over this stuff, but if you have any influence these things will make your show experience more pleasant.
11. Choose your shows wisely. You and your team know what you want to get out of exhibiting at trade shows, even if you’ve never discussed it. Carefully evaluate whether or not you’re getting that from each of the shows you do. "Because we’ve always done this show" is not a good enough reason to spend that much money and force your team to leave their families for 2-3 nights just to have to play catch-up when they get back to the office. Just because a show works for others doesn’t mean it’ll work for you, and a small show can be a goldmine if it’s the right show. Define your true goals and evaluate from there.
12. Staff your booth appropriately. The magic formula for trade show booth staff is that you need one person for every 50 square feet of space. So a 10 by 10 needs two people, a 20 by 10 needs four, etc. Yes, it’s cheaper just to send one person, but it’s too much work for one person, and what if that person is occupied and not able to give full attention to someone who could have become a major client? And your booth staff needs to be able to leave to go to the bathroom and to walk out to get lunch and see some natural light.
13. Define SMART goals for your show. Your team should agree on and write down your SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable, time-bound) goals for each show. If everyone working the show knows what the goals are, you can all stay focused. Which means working will be working, and not working will be more relaxing, and you’ll all stay in better shape. If you exhibit at a lot of shows and are thinking either "What is she talking about??" or "I know we need goals but don’t even know how to start," the guy who runs www.compedgetraining.com specializes in trade show marketing and sells training stuff to help you start exhibiting to your advantage. A show I did brought him in to talk to exhibitors for free and it turned our show performance around.
14. Put in the work before the show starts. If you do your legwork (OK, mousework) before the show, you should be able to get the right people to come to your booth specifically to see your product. That way you don’t have to stress the whole time hoping people will just happen by.
Now that I read through this list, it seems like some of these tips are applicable to people attending conferences, too, not just people exhibiting at them. Staying healthy and defining your goals will help anyone get so much more out of attending any kind of professional development event.
Do any of you have any tips for attending or exhibiting at professional conferences/trade shows?