Show time is the best time to transform your business.
I’ve been involved in the trade show and conference world as an attendee, exhibitor, sponsor, show manager, journalist, media rep, and speaker. I have been to a lot of shows in my life…probably hundreds. I’ve walked miles of aisles, sponsored shindigs, and manned (womanned?) bunches of booths.
Now, as you get ready to attend the 2017 Nightclub & Bar Show, I’ll share my time-tested secrets for getting the most out of the experience. Why only 17? Because it’s 2017, of course! Most of these are timeless, however.
Plan to Prosper
1. First, think about your own business and your goals. What do YOU need to get out of the show? Are you looking for new spirits brands or foods to liven up your menu? Upgrading your technology or streamlining your operations? Amping up your marketing? Hiring new staff? Or do you just have a tough challenge you need help solving? Make a short list of your top three goals. Look at it at least once or twice a day to see how you’re doing.
2. Research the show before you go. Think of it as if you’re planning a vacation or road trip. Although you need to leave lots of room for surprises and karma (more about that in Tip #11), make sure you have your “must do” and “must see” list before you step into your hotel room or into the first conference session or show floor. Use the website and app [click here for Android] to map out your itinerary. Some cool new features this year include the F&B Innovation Center, the “Monetizing Cannabis” panel discussion, and my own sessions on the status of Women in the bar and nightlife industry and how to write a short, sweet and practical marketing plan (both on Monday morning).
3. Set up key meetings and use LinkedIn to connect with people who are going to the show. If you’re introducing yourself to people you’ve never met before, be direct but not creepy. Don’t hard-sell, but simply explain why you’d like to meet them.
4. Plan for some bleisure time. If you’re an exhibitor, sponsor, or attendee, you know your feet will be killing you and your face will hurt from smiling. Schedule a massage, go for a walk/run, enjoy pool time, or go on a side trip before or after the show.
5. Pack well. This one may seem obvious, but be sure to stow those business cards. If you’re traveling from afar, remember essentials like chargers, comfortable shoes, credit and debit cards, and your pain reliever of choice (if you plan on late nights of sampling spirits).
Keep Your Mind, Eyes, and Ears Open!
6. Prepare to be amazed and inspired! Every speaker has insights to offer. Although you may be juggling your day-to-day responsibilities while away for a couple of days, do your best to focus on conference sessions and select them based on your main goals. If you’re not getting what you need from a session, don’t hesitate to discretely leave and move to another. If your team is with you, divide and conquer. Split up and share notes afterwards. I recently attended a conference with colleagues and I simply set up a Google Doc so we could easily share our notes with each other.
7. Sit in the right place. I’m not talking about locating yourself in the front or back of the room at a session (although if you want to meet the speaker before or after, the front is always a good spot). You’ll usually have down time before a session starts, so pick a seat next to someone who looks interesting (based on her or his badge). You never know what you can learn from a stranger!
8. Ask questions. Great speakers will be able to help you solve your specific problem or they may open the discussion up to the audience, so you’re getting the benefit of group wisdom.
The Show Floor is Open! What Now?
9. Map it out! If you have already planned to check out specific booths, hit those first. Do not linger too long at one booth if you plan to get the most out of the show. Keep moving.
10. Pace your consumption. Sample lots of products, but don’t overdo it. Your energy level will drop as the day goes on. Sip, don’t gulp. You can always go back and drink or eat more of something you love. Make notes as you go. (Your phone or tablet is great for this; no searching for random pieces of paper or business cards when you return home.)
11. Allow time to wander. The best moments at the show are sometimes the most unexpected. Allow an hour to just walk the floor with no specific purpose in mind. You may be amazed by what you find. Take pictures to keep track of ideas you love. Post on social media throughout; your customers will enjoy seeing that you’re shopping for new ideas.
12. Keep business cards and other follow-ups in a safe place. At the end of each day, organize the stuff you’ve gathered and start pulling together your list of post-show follow-ups. My fave place to stash my cards is in the back of my badge holder. I take them out each night and sort them so I can start fresh the following day.
13. Media can work magic. Keep your eyes open for members of the press and bloggers if you have news to share. Hone your elevator pitch and you might wind up in after-show articles! (Hint: I not only write for this site, I’m a contributor to the Huffington Post, MoneyInc.com, and When I Work Insights & Tips, as well as my own publications.)
The 24/7 Experience
14. The NCB Show is unique in that after-hours events are very much a part of the experience and can be vital in helping inspire new ideas…whether you’re sampling a new brand, meeting an influencer, or getting a design or technology idea for your bar or club. Enjoy and have fun, but be on your best business behavior. You want the people you meet to remember you as a great potential partner or customer – not that sloppy party guy or woman who talked too much. TMI can hurt your credibility and brand in the long-run.
15. Stay fresh. Get enough rest throughout so that you can focus on conference sessions and what you see on the floor.
Every Good Time Comes to an End…But the Value is Just Beginning!
16. Start your follow-ups early. If you delay sending thank you notes or contacting people after the show ends, you may delay indefinitely. Within 24 hours, map out exactly what you’re going to do to put your new ideas and products into motion. But be patient – I once landed a huge account 6 months after I met a new contact at a show. Great relationships take time to cultivate.
17. Document and share your learning. When you return to your bar, club or office fill your team in on what you discovered and how you’re going to act on it. Do a formal mid-year assessment. What did you take away from the show that had a lasting impact on your own growth, customer service, operations, and on your businesses’ prosperity?
See you soon! And let the show live on…long after Elvis has left the building. (I couldn’t resist that close. After all, Vegas will always be Vegas!)
P.S. Here’s where you can find me on Monday, March 27th!