Making the Most of a Trade Show Visit

by | Aug 16, 2018

The Precision Machined Products Association has a growing membership of machine shops, technical members and others involved in the precision manufacturing sector. One of the more innovative ways they communicate with current and potential members is through a regular insert in the trade publication Production Machining.

The insert is a win-win for both the PMPA and the magazine. PMPA gains an additional way to communicate to their membership, and Production Machining gets valuable content.

A perfect example? This recent article on the upcoming IMTS show in Chicago. If you’re heading to this show, or any trade show in the near future, this is a great read.

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) 2018 is set to take over Chicago’s McCormick Place from Sept. 10-15. The pure numbers of the show are pretty staggering, with more than 115,000 people expected to attend from more than 110 countries and more than 2,000 exhibitors with 1.37 million square feet of exhibit space divided into 10 pavilions, four co-located shows and more than 60 conference sessions.

So, like any big task, the secret to success at IMTS, or at any trade show, is to create a number of smaller goals and plan, plan, plan, all while leaving enough wiggle room for last-minute opportunities or challenges.

Here are some basic guidelines for planning to make the most of any trade show visit.


  • Book Early – Make sure to take advantage of any early bird specials for registration, not only to save money, but also so vendors have an idea of how many people are attending. It’s also best to book travel, transport and hotel as soon as possible.
  • Stay in the Show Hotel – Sure, it may be more expensive, but it will be close to the show, probably have free transportation opportunities and offer lots of networking possibilities.
  • Have a Plan – Make a list of goals and company needs. This way it is easier to know what to accomplish and determine whether a show was a success.
  • Make a Map – Use the show planner or a printed map to physically see the locations of the booths, which will help immensely when it comes to scheduling.
  • Look for Opportunity – Avoid visiting the same vendors. Their competitors will be there as well, as will potential customers.
  • Have a List – Is it a selling show? Then make sure to know the company’s inventory and budget. This way, it is easy to take advantage of any show specials and ordering opportunities.
  • Set Up Appointments Before You Leave – Call ahead and set up a meeting time. A few of these will not only allow visitors to ensure they get to see the right people, but act as a framework around which to build the rest of an itinerary.
  • Bring Someone – Bring someone else not just to “divide and conquer” a larger show, but also to bounce ideas off of and serve as a mentoring opportunity.
  • Travel Light – When packing, bring only the essentials. Visitors will be inside the majority of the time, so dressing for the weather can be minimal, and it is recommended to leave open space for the trinkets and other items. Make sure to bring at least two pairs of shoes.

At the Show

  • Regroup – As soon as possible, get the latest show literature and check for late additions, cancellations and schedule changes that may affect the plan and adjust accordingly.
  • Business Cards – Make sure to get and give as many business cards as you can. If possible, use the cards to take notes about the booth, the discussion and other pertinent points. This way, there will be a frame of reference later, when the show has become a blur.
  • Ship It – Always ask if any literature or other materials can be shipped. This way, you lighten the load while also getting an early gauge on a company’s interest and follow-through.
  • Take Breaks – Find a quiet spot every now and again to regroup, reorganize and refresh.
  • Leave Early – It sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes it possible to avoid lines for transport, get some time in the hotel room to organize your thoughts and catch up on issues at home. It also leaves visitors refreshed for after-hours networking opportunities.
  • The Last Day – Usually the last day of the show is the “student day,” with a dwindling crowd and vendors mostly looking to break down their booth. This can be the perfect time for one-on-one meetings.

After the Show

  • Grade Yourself – Remember that plan you made months ago? Go back to it and see what was accomplished, what was missed and put specific cards and literature with the right opportunities for follow through.
  • Grade the Show – Try to put a value to the meetings, education and networking opportunities. Add in the discounts on anything actually purchased, and see if the show “paid for itself,” then pre-book the next one.


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