Surviving The Trade Show Experience

Being surrounded by thousands of like-minded people and new toys from all over the world can be awesome... or miserable.

By M. Erik Matlock February 3, 2017

Image courtesy of Roma Flowers

Going to trade shows generally provokes mixed feelings.

There’s a certain degree of excitement, since we are mostly kids at heart, especially when faced with acres of new toys to play with.

Trade shows offer an amazing opportunity to physically touch new products and see if they are as awesome as the advertisers proclaimed.

The other side of the trade show experience would probably be the opposite of excitement. That means that after going to a few, we know what to expect. Allow me to elaborate on the trade show experience…

Plan to do a lot of walking

Without fail, that thing you need to see at 10 am is going to be 27 miles away from the thing you want to do at 11 am. Sure, there are probably shuttles. They should knock about eight minutes off your expedition.

And the crowds always seem to be doing one of two things: Either everyone wants to see the same thing and thousands of people surround you, moving like a distracted glacier, or everyone is going the exact opposite way.

You are either part of the herd or risk being trampled by the herd.

Pick comfortable shoes and prepare yourself for the slow moving mosh pit that you will spend hours of each day working through. Then anticipate repeated encounters with the same folks over and over and over.

Watch out for aliens

Not literal aliens, as far as I know. I am referring to those people who act like they have never encountered crowds, noise, carpet, lighting, coffee, guitars, other humans, and occasionally… deodorant.

They notoriously wander down the center of congested areas or just stand there. Usually, they have their mouth open and a blank stare. Everything appears to be fascinating and confusing. They seem to exist for slowing down traffic, like rubberneckers on the interstate admiring a crash scene.

To some of these aliens, “demo” translates into “performance.” It’s not enough to hold that new guitar, they must play every riff that has every passed through the old gray matter upstairs. Drawing crowds encourages them to continue… and further blocks traffic.

Another alien encounter at trade shows involves those who are completely oblivious to life forms around them. The ones who decide to hold a company meeting at the top of an escalator, swap swag and notes in front of exit doors, join in with dozens of others to just “peek” into a session while discussing anything other than the topic on schedule.

Expect that your session on the “molecular structure of microphone ribbons” will likely be interspersed with occasional laughter and stories about events leading up to a wicked hangover.

Other alien encounters resemble turning hillbilly kids loose in a McDonald’s play fort. Signs? Rules? Safety? Hahahahahaha…

Bring along your happy face and brush up on your people skills. Trade shows can be a lot of fun, mostly if you’re not responsible for anything important. Wandering aimlessly through crowds resembling Black Friday mobs with psychedelic drugs in their system is always entertaining.

Prepare for gastric repercussions

The food at these events is generally on the same level as a lovely meal at the finest gas station in town. Plastic wrappers, soda, carbs, grease, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Take antacids and fiber supplements. Plan ahead. Eat fruit and drink water at every opportunity. Seriously.

Another one of my big rules for traveling comes into play on these trips: Never eat anything on the road that is available at home.

Sure. Burger King is convenient and predictable, but it doesn’t enlarge your world. Go for the local flavors that aren’t available at home. Try something new. Keep the antacids close.

Loosen up your schedule

The excitement of visiting every single booth on the first day is not realistic. In fact, you might never see them all. Pick the ones that matter most and spread them out. Leave yourself some free time each day to wander and explore.

Keep in mind that not all shows are created equal. Some are well planned and laid out in logical and efficient ways. Others are setup on the “spend six hours each day in a bottleneck” principle. Regardless, it always takes longer to cross the floor than you think.

Meet people

Not just for the sake of networking or making new sales contacts, just meet folks. These shows are full of fascinating people from all over the world. Going home without making new friends and hearing their stories seems like a missed opportunity.

Sit with folks you don’t know. Ask questions. Engage. You will be amazed at the diversity and awesomeness of people who have traveled from all over the world, just to get in your way. Don’t just greet them for the sake of networking, or to confront their questionable social skills, or just get their money… actually talk to them.

Ask lots of questions

How often do you get the chance to talk with the guy who designed your favorite microphone? When do you ever stand face to face with pioneers of the industry? Don’t waste the opportunity to pick their brain. Passion is often contagious.

There’s so much more advice and sarcasm left to share, but you get the idea. Plan ahead, make an adventure of it, enjoy the ride and meet new people.

Just step out of the traffic flow while you do it. Thanks.

About M. Erik

M. Erik Matlock
M. Erik Matlock

Senior Editor, ProSoundWeb
Erik worked in a wide range of roles in pro audio for more than 20 years in a dynamic career that encompasses system design and engineering in the live, install and recording markets. He also spent several years as a production staff member and team leader for the largest non-denominational church in central Georgia, and served as an author for several leading industry publications before joining the PSW team.

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