While print-related conferences happen year-round, the prime show season for print service providers is right around the corner. As you rush to register for PRINT 19 and PRINTING United, don’t lose sight of why you’re attending these shows in the first place — to discover new developments within the industry and learn how to grow your business. Whether you’ve been to dozens of conferences or this is your first time attending, this list of tips will surely help you make the most of your time during show season.

Create Conference Goals

We’ve already established that you’re attending conferences because you want to learn new things and grow your business, but have you taken the time to define your goals? Are you attending to see new equipment before you invest, or are you hoping to network with peers so you can uncover strategies for increasing sales? Once you recognize the purpose of your visit, next map out who you want to see. Accomplish this by:

  • Scheduling meetings with key partners and vendors. Key staff members and management personnel are easily reached at events, so schedule time to discuss your business, concerns, and technical questions with them. Take advantage of this opportunity to get some face time with other experts.
  • Review the agenda and register for workshops. With specific goals in mind, you should be able to attend workshops and conference sessions that will equip you with actionable ideas to move your business forward. Make it a point to learn at trade shows! Some topics might seem really cool and intriguing, but sessions that don’t sync with your business strategy and conference goals aren’t worth your limited time at the show. For those topics, consider catching the recap from post-show videos and reports.

Research and Prepare Your Itinerary

After planning your meetings and selecting (or registering for) your desired sessions, you can structure your days around these must-do activities when you arrive. Review, print, and research any conference materials that you have access to ahead of the show, including conference schedule agendas and the floor map. If one exists, don’t forget to download the conference app in advance and to familiarize yourself with it before you get there. Consider researching your workshop presenters and vendor sales representatives. Understanding their background and expertise can help maximize your time with them and ensure that you ask the right questions of the right individuals.

If you’re in the market for new equipment, establish a plan of attack ahead of time so you aren’t wandering the show floor aimlessly. Review the list of exhibitors in advance and prioritize who you are visiting and why. Read press releases, announcements, and the show dailies to obtain a better understanding of the specific products that you’ll be able to touch and see at the show. When you first arrive, start by walking the entire show floor. Take note of any new vendors or interesting announcements that might not have been heavily marketed in advance.

Network, Network, Network!

When you network at trade shows, do it like you’ll get paid for it! More times than not, peer-to-peer conversations and connections can pay dividends. Here are a few tips for making the most of your networking opportunities:

  • Practice an elevator pitch. Be ready to introduce yourself and your company by creating a two-minute description of yourself and your business.
  • Bring your business cards. Even in today’s world of technology, a simple business card is necessary when networking at large events — especially for printers! Exchanging business cards can help extend your conversations beyond the conference to open up sales opportunities, create partnerships, or just establish a new contact within the industry. Here’s another tip – jot down notes on the back of all the business cards you collect so you don’t forget who you met or what you discussed.
  • Attend the social events. Whether sponsored or spontaneous, happy hours and after-show parties are an important part of the overall conference experience because they enable you to network with peers (attendees and exhibitors) in a more casual environment.
  • Ask questions and chat after sessions. After a workshop has ended, don’t be afraid to start informal conversations about the session and engage with other attendees. Presenters typically field additional questions and feedback after their workshops as well. You might not always get an answer right away, but they’ll surely get back to you if you leave a business card behind!
  • Introduce yourself. If you want to meet someone, introduce yourself! Don’t be shy — whether it’s the keynote presenter, a panel presenter, or a vendor executive, take the initiative and talk to them.
  • Follow up after the conference. Don’t limit your networking to the few days on the conference show floor. Once the conference has wrapped up (or even while it’s still going on!), be sure to connect with all your new contacts from the event. Don’t let any introductions go to waste —follow up with a LinkedIn request, an email, or a phone call.

Do Something with What You Learn

It goes without saying that you should pay attention and take notes during the conference sessions that you attend, but trade shows include many distractions. It can be difficult to remember what your notes really mean after an event, let alone follow up or implement anything. Follow these instructions to make processing the information you obtain at events a little easier:

  • At the end of each workshop, make a list of what you will do with the information and knowledge that you’ve gathered. By mapping out specific takeaways and capturing those “aha!” moments right away, you will be better positioned to navigate post-conference activities.
  • Create an action plan. Set some goals and specific benchmarks for reviewing the information you’ve learned throughout the conference. If you establish a plan for what you’ll do once you’ve returned to normal life, you’ll be less likely to let all that new information fade away.
  • Do a lunch and learn for the staff members who could not attend the event. It may not be within budget to invite everyone you’d like to a conference, but non-attendees might still need to know about the event! Take the time to pass on what you’ve learned to other staff members so they can reap the benefits for the conference too.

Finally, make the most of your conference experiences by taking time to recover. Conferences can be hectic and overwhelming, so plan ahead and leave your schedule open the day after an event. Get a full night’s rest, then mull over everything you’ve just learned.

Karen Kimerer is Director of Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends’ Business Development Strategies service. She has experienced the many challenges of expanding current market opportunities and securing new business. She is well-versed in 1:1 marketing, web-to-print, direct mail, book publishing, supply chain management, data segmentation, channel integration, and photo products.

Nichole Jones is a Senior Product Manager for Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends’ Business Development Strategies Production Printing & Packaging Consulting Services. Ms. Jones’ responsibilities include managing the promotion and distribution of InfoTrends’ content and assisting clients and channels in building business development programs.

This article originally appeared in the September/October, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.