5 Ways to Get the Most out of the National Restaurant Association Show and other Trade Shows

May 18, 2019
Jeremy Wells

So, you’re going to be attending the National Restaurant Association Trade Show – how exciting! Consider yourself lucky to be partaking in such an opportunity. Trade shows are a great way to network, learn, meet new people, and overall enhance your expertise.

They look great on resumes, too. So, let’s dive into some ways you can make sure you get the most out of the next four days.

1. Pre-Show Prep

Start by pulling out a sheet of paper and a pen. Write down what you want to get out of this trade show. Would you like to learn about a new machine? Would you like to flaunt your goods to some wholesalers? Do you hope to show off a new creation or invention? Are you trying to sell something…even your own company?

Know what you want so you can know who and what to look for. It’s totally okay to have more than one big goal, but the key is to plan and prioritize so that your time is spent wisely. The next few days will fly.

Will you be displaying at this particular trade show? If so, do go over your displays so that they are fitting to the target audience. Will you target wholesale purchasers? Restaurant clientele? Another group? If so, be sure that your display is set up to optimize inquiries and close sales.

And lastly, even though we are just hours away from this great event, be sure you let people know you will be there. Give them the booth number. Utilize social media and your website to get people in the loop!

2. Walk the Floor with Efficiency

If you missed a workout this week, fear not. Trade shows involve heaps of walking and talking to many people, and your arms may get a great workout from holding all the promotional products and “goody bags” you will be holding as a result of speaking to the folks you meet.

Be sure that you wear shoes that are professional but comfortable for long-term walking and standing.

Be sure that you locate the check-in station and grab your admission badge. This will lead you to the show’s entry. Upon walking it will be very overwhelming and exciting-after all, this one is huge!

One strategy is to start on your preferred side-left for some, right for others-and then work your way down each aisle.

You should bring a pad of paper or even your tablet and make a note of each booth that you would like to investigate further. If you are extra creative, you might draw yourself a map notating each booth that interests you.

It may help to walk with a seasoned fellow employee-often, they can show you which booths are worth checking out and which should be skipped. Trade shows often group together vendors of specific industries into their own clusters, so keep that in mind as you do your walk.

You will no doubt begin to notice the salespeople stationed outside of the booths, waving and greeting you, handing out colorful brochures. Do not stop just yet to talk; you will waste too much time.

Keep observing and noting the booths as you go, and if you MUST stop and see a booth, try to do it while the sales reps are busy with another person or you cannot be seen by them. The idea here is to walk steadily so that you cover as much ground as you can and figure out what MUST be seen so that your goals are fulfilled.

After your first walkthrough has been completed, get some water and lunch or even a light snack. As you replenish your energy, pull out your notes and make yourself a plan of action. Write down your must-see booths to complete on this first day, and then bump the rest to the second or third days.

Once you’ve created a plan for yourself, get back out there. Find a booth giving away a bag of some sort (unless you got one at the start of the show) and go forth to fill it with brochures and info from the companies you are most interested in.

3. Networking at The Trade Show

Trade shows can be pretty stressful! Don’t let that stress show onto your face. Looking stressed out might make you seem unapproachable, and you don’t want to miss those opportunities.

Don’t approach people as “marks” or someone to simply sell something to. People will see you and know to avoid you. Instead, go as a means to make friends, shake some hands and talk about your product freely and easily.

And don’t be afraid to get personal with it! You might even distribute a small card that outlines your business’s core ideas and philosophies. This is not the same as a mission statement-rather it is the practices by which your business operates.

You might ask the question. “If everybody operated as X Co. did the world would look like…” and then the card has your answer. Hand these out along with your business card and you have a memorable method of networking!

Make sure you keep that trusty pen and paper nearby, too. Write down book titles, articles recommended to you, names, phone numbers, and more. These resources given to you might just have the next great idea you need to boost your business.

Don’t be afraid to talk to people, tell them stories about yourself or your business, and ask as many questions as you like. You can even use icebreaker questions to get the ball rolling, like “Hey, I saw you over at X Booth. What did you think of the….”

Just relax and be yourself-the rest will fall into place.

4. Standing Out at The Trade Show

Chances are you have already planned your giveaways but make them unusual for max impact. You can give away anything from Rubik’s cubes to crazy socks or even balloons. If possible, try to engage your passers-by in a contest.

You might do a contest for a big prize or even create a game where passers-by spin a wheel to win some candy or other small prizes while learning about your company. You might even do something unusual or fun to attract visitors: bringing in props for a photo booth or even renting a VR headset to show off what you can offer to visitors is a fun idea.

And those waving tube air dancers have become something of a meme lately, so visitors may just enjoy stopping to smile about it and learn about your product in the process.

Another great thing you can do is have fun with it. Too often, we view trade shows as an extension of our work, meant to be serious and gain customers and knowledge. This is true and professionalism should be exercised at all times, but it’s okay to have fun too.

It’s okay to have an interactive booth, get excited about what you’re selling, and give a few high-fives as you go. If somebody leaves your space with a smile and a good feeling, you’re already winning.

You can also do some last-minute emailing as a means of getting more visitors to your space: if you know the contact info of some folks you’d love to meet, shoot them an email. Chances are they would love the invitation, and many will stop by.

5. After the Show

Okay, the show has ended, and the display has been packed up. Now what?

Don’t hold off on following up. Connect with your people via email or phone call right away after the show has ended. This keeps the lead in your sight and refreshes their memory, too. Nurture all your leads with the highest of care.

Do not neglect social media, either. Be sure to connect with your leads on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, among others. This keeps you up to date with what they are doing, and you can show off your stuff to other people, too.

Be sure that you dress up your social media posts with photos, links and of course videos. This shows your leads all you are capable of and makes it easier for them to relate. And of course, make sure all your correspondences with leads are personal! If something feels like a form letter, it is tossed aside or deleted right away.

Make it special, because you care and so does the lead. You should also add in a call to action-think of it like an arrow aimed right at your lead that urges them to take action and call you up about what you can do for them right away.

Get Ready…

The next few days are a chance to learn, connect, and take with you some fresh knowledge and ideas about your industry.

So long as you go into it with a plan of action, there will be some of the most productive and fruitful you’ve ever had when it comes to industry events. Relax, take notes, and have confidence in what you do. The rewards will surely come.

Want to connect with me during the NRA Show this year? Email me at jeremy@longitudebranding.com!

Jeremy Wells

Chief Marketing Officer, Longitude°

Jeremy is an author, speaker, and partner at Longitude°, with well over a decade of experience and expertise in brand strategy, business development, customer behavior insights, and marketing. His career has centered around helping leaders build influential brands by telling more compelling stories in order to connect on a deeper level with their audience.