Navigating a Trade Show Floor Like a Pro

Published: May 15, 2024

Trade shows happen in every industry and if you have proper preparation, you can be efficient and rock the show floor with ease. Growing up, my dad always preached to me, “proper preparation prevents poor performance.” While much can be said about life, specifically when it comes to a trade show, you can make use of the time and space pretty easily if you follow few key steps.


The first step is preparation. This comes in a few flavors. The first is to understand the purpose of your attendance. Are you there to find new products? Are you there to network with like minded individuals? Or are you there to see your current vendors and learn about their new products? Whatever the case maybe, you need to define that up front.

Once you define your goal, the next is to learn the floor from the virtual map and find the vendors you want to target. Once you have the list and the map in mind, lay your most productive and efficient use of time. What I mean by that is you don’t want to be jumping from aisle to aisle/hall to hall just to see all of your vendors. Most trade show websites allow you to pre plan your show and give you the tools to move from one vendor to the next with ease. The key to this plan is communicating and coordinating with your vendors a time to visit their booth. Make it clear to them in that initial communication how much time you have to visit and the goal of that visit. Then, you can coordinate a plan of attack.

Wearing the Right Outfit

The next flavor is what to wear. I know this may seem silly, but it can have a big impact on your overall success. You want to look good but not overdressed. You want to be comfortable but classy. I know I will get some criticism here, but jeans are perfectly acceptable if you dress them up in the right way. I know there are the traditionalists that will wear the suit and even some that will have a tie as well. That’s great if that what you feel comfortable in. Others prefer a sport coat with jeans and a button down with “dress shoes.” I’ll come back to the shoes in a minute. One of the newer up-and-coming trends is a simple company branded t-shirt with a blazer and jeans.

The bottom line is you need to feel comfortable and look good because you will be wearing said outfit for eight to 10 hours or more. Now, it’s time to talk footwear, and this really runs the gamut. I’ve seen everything from sandals to dress shoes and everything in-between. Again, this comes down to what you feel comfortable in, but my two suggestions are either a sneaker with a bold color (matching your company’s color) or “casual” dress shoes like the Cole Hann type hybrid dress/sneaker. These will give you the most comfort and help you survive the countless hours on your feet.

Pro tip: the socks matter as well. For long show floor days, compression socks are the best! The last flavor in the preparation stage is the accessories you will need to carry to make your show floor trip a success. Extra cell battery/charging station is key. You will be on your phone all day looking at show floor maps/text/email, etc. Have a spare battery charger to keep you going throughout the day.

Hydration is Paramount

A bottle of water is also key, you will be talking all day long and hydration is key to keeping you moving. You will always need that coffee/caffeine pick up and it’s pretty easy to find a booth offering a free cup of joe. Don’t buy the $5 cup of coffee from the floor cafeteria. Speaking of food, lunch is typically hard to get quickly especially during peak times of 12 pm to 1 pm. When you are planning your overall schedule, I suggest doing lunch either before noon or after 1:30. You will have a much better overall experience finding the food you are looking for and a seat at a table. Lastly, have a little shoulder pack to carry your water, batteries and any swag you pick up along the way.

Additional Tips

Fast forward to show time and you are looking good, you have your show schedule all planned out and it’s time to hit the ground running. Attack the show floor and follow the plan as best you can. Keep in mind things will come up like impromptu meetings in the aisle with people you know. Some vendor meetings run longer and some run on time. When you enter a vendor’s booth, find your primary contact and remind them of your goals and time limit. This will help them highlight for you the things you are looking for and should keep things moving.

Remember: most spec sheets can be found online so you don’t need to grab every paper that a vendor is offering. Be flexible, things change and that’s okay. Don’t forget some simple conversation starters and ways to end conversations.

Conversation Starters

  • How’s the show going for you?
  • Your booth looks great, I love the layout.
  • When did you get in? When do you leave?

Conversation Enders

  • Have a great show.
  • We have to stick to our schedule so we need to take off.
  • I’m looking forward to following up with you next week.
  • I would love for my team to see this product can we schedule a demonstration.
  • I really appreciate you time today showing me around and I truly vale our partnership.

Now the day is beginning to wind down and typically in our industry, it’s time to swap out the expresso machine for the bar. Typically, 3 pm is the time that booths start to have “happy hour” to incentivize people to stop by for a drink. Remember you are here to network and learn, and not to get drunk on free booze — save that for personal time.

Final Thoughts

In the end, trade shows have a lot of value to many people, and if you do it the right way with the right preparation, it can be hugely successful and fun. Consider the fact that people do business with people they like and trust. There is no better way to sum up a trade show than showing it’s a chance for people to strengthen current relationships and begin to build out new ones.

Patrick Whipkey headshot.

Photo courtesy: Patrick Whipkey

Patrick Whipkey is vice president of Edge.

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