7 Steps on How to Network at a Trade Show

Networking is a powerful word.  For some people it brings fear and anxiety and for some it brings excitement and gets the adrenaline going.  Wherever you happen to be in the spectrum, the main purpose of networking is to meet people.

Here’s a shot of a typical large trade show floor.  Lots of booths with vendors pitching their wares and lots of people window shopping – just like you.

trade show picture

I like to break down my networking into 7 steps:

  • Goal – what is your goal in being here at the show
  • Commitment – how much time do you want to spend at each booth vs. at workshops vs. just people watching
  • People – who do you want to meet in order to advance your goal.
  • Contact – how many people do you need to get information from in order to judge this as successful
  • Share your Problem – can you simply communicate the goal you’re looking to achieve or the problem you’re trying to solve
  • Follow Through – between a week and 2 weeks of leaving the show, follow back up with the folks you think will help advance your goals
  • Book a Meeting – with the folks you have re-connected with from the show who can help you solve your problem, book a meeting.  This can be a virtual meeting via Skype or even a phone call to get more into the brass tacks.

Preparation.  First off – do you know your name, where you’re from, and what you do?  Great!  That’s going to be among the first questions a vendor is going to ask as you walk the aisles.  Knowing what you are there for in the first place is definitely helpful.

Warm-up.  Before I get too deep onto a conference floor, I like to warm up by stopping at the fringe booths.  They’re the ones who are situated on the outer perimeter of the floor and generally see the least amount of foot traffic simply because they’re not surrounded by other booths.  Think of the whole floor as a few city blocks and the perimeter is a side street.

Introductions.  They don’t have to be stiff or rehearsed.  Start off by introducing yourself at one of these perimeter booths.

“Hi.  My name is Jeremiah Brophy.  Can you tell me a little bit more about what it is that you’ve got going on?”


Listen.  Seriously.  A vendor LOVES to talk about the tech specs of their equipment and services so give them the opportunity to do so.  Whether you understand what they’re saying or not is inconsequential.  They’ll probably ask questions like, “Where are you from?” or “What are you looking for?”  Not a problem.  You should know where you’re from with little to no prep and even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, simply answer: “I’m just checking things out.”  This will let the vendor relax a bit as well and simply try and have a person-to-person conversation with you without having to have all the answers to the tech questions they were dreading you might come up with.

Contact information.  Vital.  “Do you have a card?” is a question you’ll get A LOT and a question you should ask – A LOT.  Not only does it allow the opportunity to trade contact information but it can signify the end of the interface.  I’ve had plenty of people come up to a booth that I was manning and simply take one of my cards or ask me for a card without even breaking stride.  People are busy after all and you’re no exception.  After all, you have an entire floor to walk and plenty of people to connect with without getting caught up in someone’s life story.  Unless they have free coffee or drinks in which case mark that booth as a spot to relax at every hour or so.

Share your problem.  Whether you’re on the floor or you’re in a Q&A discussion group, take advantage of the fact that people are there who want to help you.  The worst thing you can do is ask no one and share with no one.  If all else fails, ask someone else what problems they came here to solve.

Follow Through.  Most companies and individuals fail at this simply because they don’t do it in a timely fashion.  Following through immediately is not the right move simply because that person is probably in a workshop, on a panel, at the booth, or otherwise dedicating their time to walking the floor.  Do yourself a favor and know that your email or phone call should come about a week later.  Or, if you have connected with someone within hours or a few days, give them some room to breath before you should expect their undivided attention.

Book a Meeting.  Through the laws of attrition, some of the folks you connected with will fall away.  They’re either non-responsive, you did some research and found that they probably weren’t a fit, or you just had a bad vibe about them.  With the ones that made the grade, set up a meeting.  Could be coffee if they’re local to you or you’re going to be in their town shortly.  Could be a phone call or a video chat.  Either way, this is what your efforts have been leading.

Seems simple but let me know what you think AFTER you try it.  If you’re nervous, go small.  Try a local trade show with less than a dozen vendors.  Try your local farmer’s market even.

Networking isn’t a science, it’s an art and it does take practice.  After the first time, it gets easier every time.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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