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How to Be a Savvy Tradeshow or Art Show Guest

How do you walk a tradeshow without looking like a novice? How do you keep your artful act together when reaching for your personal effects?

If you have vexing visions of your fifth grade awkwardness, follow some of these tips to streamline your tradeshow floor savvy. After all, we’re all tramps, we just don’t want to appear like one. Oh and as for the definition of tramps, I mean nomads, not hussies people! 😉


As a Savvy Tradeshow Tramp, you’ll want to lighten your load and increase your stamina with a only a few personal accessories on the tradeshow floor:

SpotLight Savvy: A Sturdy Passport Case
We found these cases from a street vendor during a Spring street fair. There always happens to be a street fair during the same week as NSS, Surtex, & ICFF near Mid-Town Hilton. I *think* they were about $15 each and they’re definitely worth their weight in gold.

Passport Badges Turned Show Badges

Each case has 2 sides:

· One side for your tradeshow badge (in some cases you may have to fold an edge of your paper badge to slide it in)
· The opposite side contains a pocket for your business cards and pen

You can make your own or you can search a street fair or even eBay -I’m sure you’ll find one to meet your needs.

SpotLight Savvy #1: Always keep your last attendance badge from the previous show tucked in your new badge holder. You may need it again to verify who you are at the check-in desk because one never knows when a technology snafu might occur –it happened to us last week.

SpotLight Savvy: A Journal
Journaling Your Trek

While I did keep a journal during my tradeshow exhibits (to tape business cards on pages and make notes) and I also carry one while walking a tradeshow. My favorite kind of journal is a Moleskine (surprised?) that allows me to make notes and also tuck in businesscards and postcards in the back secret pocket. As a walker, I don’t tape collected business cards to the inside of my agenda (eats too much time), I will make notes on the back of them -that’s a must- and tuck them away.

SpotLight Savvy #2: Since my handcrafted journal covers also adds yet another 2 pockets (front and back), I separate my own postcards from the collected postcards -makes it yet another savvy spotlight on efficiency.

SpotLight Savvy: Your Phone
Along with my phone, I also carry a few of my business cards in my mobile phone sleeve. Because one time I got caught without them, I now make sure I insert a few w/my phone.
Mobile Phone Holder

Since we’re all tethered in one form or another with phone usage, think of the vendor’s boothspace as a library. The tradeshow floor is already bustling with mania and interrupting phone rings just adds to chaos. Unwelcomed distruption to the vendor who is already attempting a discussion will instantly chafe your relationship. Learn how to stop calls in mid-ring (many people don’t know how to do this!) and put your phone on vibrate for an amicable courtship.

Organize vs Monopolize
The idea is to be organized on the tradeshow floor. The vendors who have invested thousands, yes, thousands of dollars into their position on the tradeshow floor don’t want to eat their time with novices.

SpotLight Savvy #3: Memorize where your belongings are and your nimble attendance will be admired. Holding the vendor hostage while you dig through your backpack is annoying, at the very least. If you must pack more print collateral than you think, use your passport holders & journals as satellites for your pieces -one can always reload collateral during your personal breaks.

SpotLight Savvy #4: Resist starting conversations with other booth visitors. Because this space is provided by and paid for by the vendor, they own the floor time. Every minute is costly and they struggle to recoup their fees through sales.

These vendors are waiting for buyers to form new or renew purchasing relationships –please please please consider their time first. It’s about them, not you.

If you’re curious about how much money is invested for even the smallest of companies, here is a brief breakdown of a vendor’s typical tradeshow expenses:

Floor Space – Tradeshow floor space begins at $4,000+ per show (space that begins ~10′ x 10′)
Booth – Professional outfits can range from $2,000+ (that’s usually for the small guys)
Travel – Depending if you’re shipping your booth and product or hauling it yourself, it’s begins at about $1,000
Travel 2 – Flying or driving? While the ticket of flying may be more cost effective, flying may be more economical (read: no bathroom, driver or food stops, no tolls, no traffic, no delays, no bad company = less taxing).
Hotel & Food – Finding hotels through the tradeshow Web site will help alleviate a few hundred dollars and one still needs a safe place to sleep.
Travel 3 – One must to get to the tradeshow floor in the morning. In some cases, a hotel is associated with the tradeshow, the management will have complimentary buses (close to the hotel) to transport to the center.
Print Collateral – Current business cards, postcards, catalogs, signage, and other unactualized POP display is printed and organized long before one arrives on the tradeshow floor.
Product – This is vendor’s choice.

Overall, the sum of this business endeavor ranges ~$10-$15k per show. As you can see, these shows aren’t part of the artists’ hobby, it’s their livelihood.

Trendspotting, Stalking, & Respect
In addition to visiting my partners on the floor to gauge our customer’s response with our new product, I also like to walk through some of the specialty sections to review how the economy is treating them and what new products they’re introducing. In some cases, I’m a silent observer watching (stalking) competition to understand the new directions they’re taking. Watching their growth and reading industry publications helps me understand if I’m also moving in the right direction to build my empire.

SpotLight Savvy #5: If you’re walking the show to determine if this show is a right fit for your business, tell them immediately -they’ll appreciate it that you did. Compliment them on their work, empathize if you can and wish them well.

SpotLight Savvy #6: If you’re walking the show to do some trendspotting, tell them. If you are trendspotting, consider including them in your write up -they’ll appreciate that you did. Please don’t ask them to review their products on the floor, just ask for their business card and let them know you’ll get back with them after the show. Compliment them on their work, empathize if you can and wish them well.

SpotLight Savvy #7: If you’re walking the show to steal ideas, move along. These artists have worked very hard to harmonize the right product for their customer and their customer’s customer. Compliment them on their work, empathize if you can and wish them well.

If art & design is your goal to build your own business, reading, breathing, and walking various venues will aid in your understanding of what is popular (vs what is actually selling). Determine how you can apply some of the influence, but for the love of hardworking artists everywhere, rethink your position as a fellow copycat.

If you decide you want to string beads like the past four vendors you just reviewed, ask yourself ‘why?’ Getting on the same wagon as other artists doesn’t make you unique and it dilutes their position -that’s a huge disservice to both you and your competition. Not to mention, buyers will ask you why they should buy from you and not the artist they’ve already established a good relationship with. (Do you hear crickets chirping?)

Artists respect fellow artists and many collaborate due to complementary skillsets, but they won’t continue relationships with you if you don’t know where you’re headed in your own business.

Update: May 10th: After exhibiting at a networking table this past week, I’m adding another tip:

Resist Faux Engagement
If you’re walking the show, resist creating faux interest in the seller’s products only to sell your own. The vendors who have invested thousands, yes, thousands of dollars into their position on the tradeshow floor don’t want to eat their time with someone who doesn’t have any interest in the product or services on display. I had this happen a couple of times and it was annoying, to say the least. My attention is fixated on them (good rapport is built on the one-on-one) only to watch other potential buyers walk by without notice.

SpotLight Savvy #8: If you’re walking the show just to introduce your product or service to vendors, move along. These entrepreneurs have very little time to engage with the right people (galleries, media) and monopolizing their time with your product immediately renders you rude and now you’re categorized as a shark. If you feel your product or service can benefit the vendor, take her card and contact her after the show.

Master Your Savvy
If you’re looking to sharpen your skills as a fellow tradeshow tramp, you can find the following pieces on ecstewart.com:

Suede Cover Plain & Personalized Moleskine Journals (available in assorted colors & blank, lined, & agenda)
MidTown Mobile Phone Cases (available in 2 colors & various sizes)

Congratulations! You’re Now a Savvy Tradeshow Tramp!
I hope this outline of savvy tradeshow tips has helped you become proficient in your attendance, whether you’re exhibiting or not. If you have additional tips or questions, please contribute to the conversation -I always look for an enriching discussion.

Here’s to Cultivating Your Creative Independence

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Lisa Stewart
CREATIVEGoddess, Design Entrepreneur, Guide for INDIECreatives.com; Huge Pet Advocate; Lover of Wine, Food, Travelling, Tech & Laughing. Dreamy & Practical.

4 Responses to “How to Be a Savvy Tradeshow or Art Show Guest”

  1. Melissa says:

    I enjoyed this article; it’s not only informative but fun to read and look at, as well!

  2. Thanks Melissa! I’m happy it helped you!

  3. After a show I take all the business cards I have collected and put them in a notebook with plastic sleeves that hold business sized cards as an organizer. Notes on the back are a must. From these I then create data bases.

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