14 Tips for Trade Show Attendee Success

We took some time to speak with Matthew Sessions, a show organizer at the Digital Summit Series to get some expert advice on how best to maximize value as an attendee to a trade show.

We attend trade shows as vendors and as learners throughout the course of the year, and we’re accustomed to the daunting task of selecting the right shows and then making sure we accomplish what we initially set out to do. Most of our clients share the deer-in-headlights moments of walking into a giant show and not knowing where to start. We also share the same pain in looking down a speaker list and wanting to get to every session, or in just trying to convince our bosses how important the learning experience will be for our business.

How should brands identify shows to attend?

  • Who is the show organizer?  How long have they been producing the event?  Anyone can put up a glossy website and make huge claims but if their team does not have the depth & experience to successfully execute, it will be a complete waste of time.  Sadly, there are some very poorly run conferences today.  Fortunately, the ‘good’ conferences are the majority.
  • What’s the quality of the website?  Being in the digital marketing space we should expect a legit digital marketing conference to have an easy to navigate website, large social media presence, well-designed email campaigns, attentive customer service with humans to reach via phone & live chat, and more.
  • What’s on the Agenda and who are the speakers?  Probably the most important detail!  Does the agenda & content match the topics I’m interested in for professional development?  Are the speakers from brands I want to learn from or just a collection of industry vendors trying to sell me something?
  • How much are tickets?  Beware as higher priced events don’t always correlate to ‘better’ events.  Don’t get ripped off!  And if purchasing a ticket last minute, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount.  No show organizer is going to want to lose an attendee over a few bucks.
  • Be sure to budget for everything!  Buying a ticket to attend is one thing but if it involves airplanes, meals out, hotel rooms, Uber rides, etc., your costs are going to jump dramatically.  Remember hotel-alternative website like Airbnb, VRBO, etc. can offer a fantastic deals to save on housing.  When evaluating conferences to attend, distance (local vs. out-of-town) should certainly be an important decision as travel time can really add up for the out-of-town shows.

I would love to go to more shows, but budgets are tight. How can I convince my boss that development and learning at the show is worth the investment?

All good show organizers should have a “Convince your Boss / Company” page highlighting all the reasons to invest your time at the conference.  This is a great summary page on what to expect by attending.

How should I prepare for a trade show as an attendee?

Make a checklist pre-event of your big & small picture challenges in your business role.  Share with colleagues that you are attending an upcoming conference and ask to help identify your organizations challenges, needs, and wish-lists.  Having prepared a list of specific business needs will help you maximize your ROI at the event.

  • Talk to the vendor sponsors. Yes, they are there to sell you their services/solutions but they are also experts that are happy to share some free advice if you become a future customer or not.
  • Network with other attendees!  It’s very likely many fellow attendees can relate to your challenges and collaborate for solutions.  It’s a great ice-breaker to meet new people.

Sometimes it’s hard to identify the best meetings and presentations to attend when I go to trade shows. How should I plot my days?

If the show organizer has a detailed online Agenda, this should be easy to do pre-event.  Plan to arrive on Day One 15-30 minutes early to review the onsite schedule.  Last-minute speaker & agenda changes should be expected and use this time to verify / audit your day ahead.

Digital Summit obviously has a lot of focus on digital marketing. What if that isn’t part of my day to day? Will I still find value?

If digital marketing is not your main job role, educating yourself on the digital marketing ecosystem and current trends will still advance your career. This goes for our shows, as well as other marketing shows.

  • If in Sales, how can you leverage digital marketing to generate new leads and grow your sales pipeline?
  • If you’re IT / tech focused, discover how marketing is changing technology and the impact on your career
  • If in HR, network with hundreds of digital marketers who would be great future team members
  • If in legal, study how digital marketing impacts traditional law and future challenges of marketing in a 24/7 global economy
  • If in a business ownership / leadership role, discover how digital marketing will be a massive disrupter of business as we currently know it.  Use the conference experience to update your five-year business plan.


To learn more about marketing at trade shows, digital marketing and advertising, and the Digital Summit Series, contact our experts for a free consultation.

Ryan Burch
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