Doing Cons, Fairs, and Tradeshows Right
Ten years ago I attended my first tradeshow with the Society of Economical Geologist's conference in Denver Colorado. It was huge and amazing. That was the first time I had seen giant booths filled with all kinds of rocks for purchase. I think it's only appropriate that I'm preparing for another rock show almost exactly 10 years later.
I've been to at least one international conference, convention, fair or tradeshow each year since then, run workshops at them (and even keynoted) and I've learned a lot about how to manage expectations and make the most of my time. In addition to wearing comfortable shoes, knowing where the restrooms are, and bringing bottled water, it's important to plan ahead--even if you're only attending the tradeshow.
Whether you are going in order to learn something specific, buy something specific, network with others, or just enjoy the experience there are some things to do to prepare and keep in mind in order to make sure you get what you had hoped out of the experience.
1. Know why you're there and what you hope to get out of it
Although you might change your mind once you get there, make sure you're clear on what you'd like to get out of it. Are you looking to buy something specific? Are you doing research on certain products? At my first convention I was finishing up my Geology degree with an emphasis in Earth and Space Science Education and I was 2 months away from my first teaching job. I was checking out textbooks, teaching resources, and rocks that I could get for my classroom. This coming weekend I'll be attending the Gem Faire as a jewelry maker looking for good stones for my jewelry as well as good chains and partners to resource from in the future.
Once you know the reason for your trip and what you hope to leave with then you can prepare everything else with that in mind.
2. Get a map of the vendors
At most large cons a map of the vendors is going to be very overwhelming when you first look at it but don't worry, you don't have to understand the whole thing from the get go. The main reason you want a vendor map is so that you can take notes on the vendors you liked and find them later.
Vendors are positioned in various places around the showroom floor and they pay for positions closer to the door. This means that people closer to the door are usually going to be larger-producing companies and they may have higher prices. The smaller organizations that are owner-operated and independent with more reasonable prices are going to be scattered throughout the middle of the showroom floor and will be very hard to keep track of if you aren't taking notes on a map.
Most tradeshows have a map near the entrance and if you can get ahold of a map prior to the event, even better! Since I'm prepping for the Gem Faire, I'm linking the map of the Sept 2018 SLC Gem Faire here: https://shows.map-dynamics.com/gfsaltlakesep2018/
3. Take notes as you go and don't buy your first walk around
You may not be able to walk the entire showroom floor before you start making decisions on what to buy or where to spend your time but at least walk a few rows before you start buying or spending all of your time in one place. You want to find the booths that are run by people that are going to be good connections and that you feel comfortable working with. You want to find prices that are a better reflection of what you're looking for (quality and price-wise). So keep your goals in mind and walk the first few rows just taking notes on what is there and whether you want to revisit different booths.
4. After your first sweep review your goals
Once you've looked at a good chunk of the booths you may realize that nobody has exactly what you're looking for. Or you may find that you're seeing a lot of something you didn't expect. Or maybe you got a bunch of new ideas. It's time to revisit your goals and decide how to spend the rest of your time. Do you need to spend your time asking people questions and learning more information? Is there a specific item that you need to get more of? Is there an item that is going to be more expensive than expected? Revisit your original goals and check in with what you had hoped to get out of the experience in order to use the rest of your time to accomplish it.
Do you have any learnings from your years doing cons that you'd like to share? Comment below!