Twenty-nine insider secrets revealed: How to prosper from the APWA trade show

Karen Susman
Karen Susman & Associates

“It costs 62 percent less to close a lead generated from a show than one originated in the field.”

- Center for Exhibit Industry Research

Whether you’re exhibiting at or just attending the APWA exposition, networking opportunities abound. Many exhibitors, you know who you are, will sit behind their tables snacking and visiting with co-workers. Many attendees, you know who you are, will wander aimlessly from booth to booth searching for the best freebie. With planning, you can turn this trade show experience into a career- and business-building bonanza.

Trade Show Tips

  1. Have a plan. With whom do you want to meet? What booths do you want to see? Study the layout and map so you don’t waste time and energy.
  2. Set up appointments to meet before you arrive. Ask that the attendee list be sent to you. If you’re attending but not exhibiting, peruse the list of exhibitors in the registration packet. Track them down before you hit Louisville.
  3. Make a date in advance with colleagues to have a cup of coffee at the show. This is an efficient way to stay connected.
  4. Spread out your resources. Don’t roam the room with your co-workers.
  5. Learn from those who attend as well as from those who exhibit. Talk to people in the aisles. Find out their interests. What draws them in? Invite them to your booth.
  6. Qualify quickly. This goes for exhibitors as well as attendees.
  7. Use the buffet as a networking venue, not as a trough. It’s hard to speak with a full mouth. It’s hard to shake hands while you balance a plate and a glass. And, it’s hard to exchange cards when you’ve got dip-covered digits.
  8. Even if you’re not exhibiting, have an advertising specialty to give away. People may throw out brochures and papers from booths, but they rarely throw out an advertising specialty.
  9. Carry a small tape recorder to record things you want to remember to do or people to see. Capture new ideas. Adapt ideas from other industries.
  10. Ask lots of questions. If a company you’re interested in is exhibiting, the exhibitor will be a great source of information. Look at the brochures and ask questions related to the brochure. Take notes or record notes.
  11. Ask the exhibitor the name of the person you should contact for your specific goals. Write the name on his/her card. Ask if you can use his name.
  12. Instead of visiting a long time at a booth, set up an appointment.
  13. Attend educational sessions with the people you want to meet. Introduce yourself, talk, share your learning experience. Now you have something in common. You’ve already begun a relationship. Visit before the seminar. Ask for the cards of the people sitting on each side of you. Turn around. Who is sitting behind you? Who’s in front of you? Don’t just sit there.
  14. Say your name. If you decide to respond to a question or ask a question, say your name, company and/or what you do when you respond. For instance, “I’m Karen Susman, national speaker, trainer and coach, and I’d like to ask...”
  15. Freshen up often. Rest. Eat healthy.
  16. Organize and toss materials at the end of each day.
  17. Follow up immediately with important contacts. Even a brief note will remind them of you and your company. Handwritten notes are so unusual that the recipient will be impressed. If someone requests information, get right on it.
  18. If you’re working the show, get out from behind the table. Be proactive. Ask visitors about their businesses so you can show them appropriate products or information. This means you must listen attentively. Don’t sell your product or service. Sell the product of the product; what the product will do for them.
  19. Be ready with “case histories” of your successes. Help visitors by painting a picture of how they could use your products. Just imagine...
  20. Don’t overstaff your booth. Too threatening to attendees.
  21. Speak at an educational session at the trade show. Let your database know you’re speaking. This positions you as an expert. Invite contacts to hear you speak. Send them four of the ideas you presented.
  22. If you’re not speaking, send your contacts tips from a presentation you hear at APWA. Tell your boss you’d like to set up a department meeting to share what you’ve learned.
  23. Appear on panels. Get to know the other panelists before your presentation. This will make for a better presentation and you’ll be networking and building relationships with movers and shakers. Keep in touch afterward.
  24. Volunteer to introduce a speaker or panel. You don’t have to prepare much, you have visibility and credibility, and your name is often in the program.
  25. Sponsor an award or contest. This could be a drawing or an award for guessing the number of brochures you brought to the trade show. Or, have a contest for the most creative way your services can be used. How about sponsoring an award for trade show or industry person of the year, emerging leader, etc.? This will give you national recognition.
  26. Offer to train the other trade show exhibitors in how to get the most out of trade shows.
  27. Be curious. Not only could other industries be your next new niche, but you can learn what works for them and adapt the information for your business, city or department.
  28. Leverage every action. Take everything you do at a trade show and ask, “What else can we do with this? How else can we use this?”
  29. Follow up! If you’re not willing to follow up in a timely manner, just stay in your bunny slippers and wish for more business, knowledge, and success.

Networking at a trade show, if you do it right, is hard work. But if you want to build your business and boost your bottom line, you can’t top trade shows. The APWA International Congress and Exposition provides you with more opportunities than potholes after a freezing winter.

“If you want fish, fish.”

German proverb

Karen Susman will be speaking several times at the APWA 2000 Congress and Exposition. You can reach her at 888-678-8818 or