35+ Tips, Tricks & Strategies for Preparing For, Attending & Returning From a Trade Show or Expo (Part 1)


I’ve been back from CES for a month now (and recently attended MacWorld) and have had time to cobble together a few blog posts about things that I saw at both shows as well as have a tiny bit of time to reflect back on my time there. My general experience at CES was that of being thoroughly overwhelmed, not only by the amount of technology that was being showcased, but also at being at a place and event that was quite new to me. Yes, this was my first CES (but not my first tradeshow) and only my second time in Las Vegas. I learned a lot, especially in terms of how to pack as well as how to strategically approach the show from a “reporting” perspective.


What I will outline in this two-part article are some tips and tools that I found to be useful. Some may be good take away points for you when you plan your next trip to an expo, and others are more insights from my own personal standpoint. Obviously, this is not a de facto list and your mileage may (and probably will) vary.

There are 3 sections to this 2-part article:

  1. Pre-Show Planning (this post)
  2. At the Show Activities (Part 2)
  3. Post-Show Follow-Up (Part 2)

Be sure to leave comments and suggestions on this post for others to see. Everyone develops different strategies when approaching tradeshows and trips so sharing your ideas is important.

Pre-Show Planning

Packing for a trip can be daunting. My family tends to over-pack and consequently has fully packed bags just leaving the door. For CES, I tried to approach it differently.

Packing Tips

So here are some packing tips (remember, this is from a male’s perspective): image

  • Go Minimal – I tend to pack just one shirt for each day. Pants can be worn multiple times. Be sure that you can mix and match. Can your shirts be dressed up or down by simple changing from jeans to fancier pants?
  • Check the Weather Forecast of your Destination – are you packing appropriately? Bring clothes that work in layers.
  • Don’t Fill your Suitcase Completely – leave some room to bring new things back if you need to. Also, it’s easier to lug something lighter than breaking your back trying to lift something over packed and stuff it into the overhead compartment.
  • Create a Packing List – do this well before your trip. Yeah, I did mine about a day or two prior but just going through the process helped me eliminate unnecessary items.
  • Check the TSA & Airline Guidelines – there is nothing worse than having to throw out banned items or get slowed down at security. It’s a slow process even if you pack well. And be sure to put those items that need to be inspected in an easily accessible place (like computers and toiletries). I actually put many of my electronics and cables in clear, 1 quart-sized Ziploc bags (don’t do larger than 1 quart!)
  • Pack Comfortable Shoes – this deserves a line item into itself. You may be on your feet all day and night. I had one day where I left the hotel at 6:30 am and didn’t get back until 1:30 at night/morning!

Strategy Planning

Once you get your packing nailed down, you need to plan out a strategy for what you are going to do once you get to your destination. In some cases, this may actually be something that you start months before your trip (before you even pack). image

  • Get on the Media List – as I mentioned, this article is more geared towards “covering” the show from a media perspective so many of the things that I recommend revolve around the fact that you are getting the “perks” of being on the media list. But this also means that you will be bombarded with emails related to the show, mainly Press Releases or other product or services announcements. You might want to consider having a dedicated email for this. Another way is to use filters within your email. I got LOTS of email from CES.
  • Know what Vendors you Want to See – start compiling a list of the companies or vendors who you want to meet with. Start a list (I use Evernote) with the company name, booth number and contact person. Several big tradeshows now have mobile applications that let you “flag” vendors. This can be really helpful when you are actually at the event and trying to figure out how close booth A is from booth Z.
  • Make Some Appointments – if there are vendors that you particularly want to see, make the appointment to see them early. If they are particularly popular, spots to talk with them may fill up quickly so the sooner you get it done, the better. Keep track of your appointments. Put them in a calendar with the details. But also, I would recommend having one file that lists out all of your meetings by day/time. You can print this out and have it handy, especially if your phone runs out of power during the show.
  • Look at the Expo Map or Floor Plan – I didn’t do this when I went to CES so I was pretty clueless as to where I needed to go. Try to get a lay of the land and plan your path around the expo, paying close attention to where things are and the timing of your meeting. Allow time for walking as well. Don’t overbook yourself.
  • Understand Local Transportation Options – if your expo is right next to your hotel, you have it made. If it’s like the way it was for CES, be sure you understand all of the transportation available to you (cabs, shuttle, walking, ride sharing, etc.)

Core Technology to Bring

Of course, for me, packing for any tradeshow requires taking the best gadgets with you to report on the event. What you bring really depends on they type of coverage you are going to be doing (live vs. recorded, written vs. multimedia, etc.). If you are doing a big live streaming show (along the likes of a CNET or TWIT), then this list is not really for you. You will bring an entourage of tech help and others to get you through things, but definitely do think through some of the things above and below.

If you are going a bit more lower profile, there are some definite items that you will want to bring. Remember, bringing technology along is risky – you can be slowed down at security for more detailed inspection and you are more prone to theft either while you are moving around or from your room at a hotel. (Side tip: use the wall safe in your room always when you are out – but also, put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door and put a light on as well as the TV playing, while not exactly energy conscious, it is a good theft deterrent – thanks Jeff Sass for that idea).

But to cover a show, here are the core technology essentials in my opinion: image

  • Video Camera – great for capturing interviews, product demos, speeches or whatever. I used a Kodak PlayTouch at CES.
  • Digital Camera – a must have for products and people pictures and be sure you have extra batteries and chargers. I used a Sony NEX-5 at CES.
  • Laptop/Netbook – have a “real” computer for doing any work that you need to but leave it (locked away) in your hotel room. Unless it is a really small netbook, don’t lug it along. I used an Apple MacBook Pro at CES.
  • Cell/smart phone – need I say more, this is an absolute essential. I used an iPhone 4 with a battery case at CES.
  • Batteries/Battery Cases – bring extra batteries for all of your devices if you can. If your cell phone allows you to put in fresh batteries, be sure you have those. I used a Mophie Juice Pack Air and Air Plus (both) at CES as well as an external battery from Dexim.
  • Cables – another essential, be sure that you have power and connection cables for all of your devices (micro, standard, mini USB, iPhone/iPod cable, laptop and other cables)
  • Tablet – It was a lot easier to carry around an iPad (with a Bluetooth keyboard) or other tablet (I DON’T have an Android tablet…yet…hint hint)
  • Physical note pad – while I didn’t actually do it, a lot of people tend to carry around a physical note pad to jot down information. I personally use Evernote for that on my phone. At a minimum, bring some pens.
  • Business cards – another essential, be sure you have lots of business cards, I always ran into people who “had run out” (e.g., forgot to pack enough of them or pack them in general)
  • Small portable tripod – bring a small tripod for video or photo-shoots. I had a Joby GorillaPod at CES.
  • Small bag or backpack (emphasis – small) – It’s important to have some sort of a compact bag to carry all of the items above. You can usually get a bag at the trade show but wouldn’t you rather carry around you own bag? I just used a small Timbuk2 messenger bag at CES.
  • Alternate Connectivity Device – if you can do it, bring a MiFi or secondary cell phone, preferably with a different carrier than your cell or smartphone. At CES, I used a Verizon MiFi.
  • Digital Audio Recorder – it’s good to have something to record just audio or hook into your video camera. You can easily record a heck of a lot more audio than you can digital HD video! At CES, I WISH I had a Zoom H1.

Prepping for attending the show is probably the hardest part. Once you are packed, in the air and on your way, things get much easier, more fun and quite exciting. Be prepared to come back from your excursion needing a vacation, sick or both.

The next part of this post goes into some points to consider when you are at the show as well as some suggestions on what to do when you get back.

HTD says: What are your essential that you take on a trade show trip? Leave a comment!









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Michael Sheehan (“HighTechDad”) is an avid technologist, writer, journalist, content marketer, blogger, tech influencer, social media pundit, loving husband and father of 3 beautiful girls living in the San Francisco Bay Area. This site covers technology, consumer electronics, Parent Tech, SmartHomes, cloud computing, gadgets, software, hardware, parenting “hacks,” and other tips & tricks.

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