Trade show tips that make life easier for all

I am back from another trade show and am doing all my postconference processing. Once again, I'm dealing with all the typical postconference headaches, which follow the inevitable conference headaches, which were preceded by the preconference headaches. I am amazed that so many people are still making life hard for us analysts and writers.

Here's my list of my top trade show pet peeves (shared over a few beers with more than one fellow analyst or writer) and some tips for rectifying them. Read 'em, learn 'em, love 'em.

Business cards: Yes, they're still needed. First, make sure you don't run out of them on the show floor - bring more than you think you need. Second, almost as bad as not having a card is having one that's hard to process. Resist the urge to be trendy and use initial lowercase, no matter what your public relations firm or design team tells you. Causing someone to go back and manually edit every field in a scanned card database record does not make a good first impression. Make sure the card is scannable - we get hundreds of cards; don't make us type them into our contact-management system manually. Make sure your company name is in print, not in the logo and the print is readable. Avoid colored cards with reverse print; if it looks great artistically, it's probably not very scannable. Avoid odd-sized and -shaped cards - their novelty value wears off fast, and they're a pain to carry around. Use two-sided cards (such as multilingual cards) only if you have a real need - don't make us sharpen our card-shark skills, flipping cards back and forth when there are 300 on our desk on a Monday morning.

Booths: Trade shows are big places. There's no way to get reliable directions to booths at a trade show. Give us a landmark so we can find you. If you're behind the Google booth, say so. Give us something unique - such as your logo on a visible balloon - to find you. Finally, make sure there's something in your booth that tells what you do: "The leader in . . . ." Don't make us guess what you do based on your weird, ad-agency-created name. There are hundreds of booths at these shows; if we can't figure out what you do by looking at your booth, we're not likely to stop and ask.

Literature: Don't make us carry a huge paper press kit around. Put all your information online in a place associated with the specific trade show and give us the URL or use a CD or flash media. Electronic files are easier for us to organize when we're back on our office PC and become sortable in our Google Desktop search engine. You'll reap the rewards of this practice too. If we're on the same plane, we won't be stuffing a folder-filled bag the size of a watermelon under the seat next to you, so you'll be able to stretch out on the flight home.

Meetings: First, have a reason for the meeting, and be honest. If you've got news, great - tell us. If it's just a catch-up meeting, that's OK too - but don't bait and switch. If you're offsite, that's not only inconvenient, it also affects all of our other meetings. So make it worthwhile, and don't be surprised if the painful cab lines and extended transport time means that your desired hourlong meeting can last only 20 or 30 minutes. If you don't want to swing for a booth, consider getting into one of the press events, such as Showstoppers or Digital Experience, which are a great way for start-ups to get in front of the press without spending too much.

Trade shows are important mechanisms for us to gather information. They are indeed a one-stop shop for building relationships and getting details. They're often the only opportunity to get hands-on with so many items. But please focus on your intended audience's efficiency too. If it's easy for us, that will pay back to you in the long run.

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