How to capitalize on a trade show without exhibiting.

Written by Jereme on

You can elevate your brand, make connections, and even collect leads as an attendee – if you have the right strategy.

After a year or more of virtual-only industry events, ISOs and VARs can once again attend trade shows in person. After taking a minute to celebrate the return of face-to-face networking, you should start planning your strategy for getting maximum ROI on trade show attendance.

Exhibiting is a great way to boost your visibility and make new contacts during the event. However, when you weigh the costs and requirements of exhibiting, you may find that it isn’t possible based on your budget or the number of team members attending.

Fortunately, there are ways to capitalize on attending a trade show even without exhibiting. Here are six ideas that will help you get the most out of the next event.

1. Study and plan.

If you’re finally taking the time to see who is attending the trade show in the airport while you wait for your flight, it’s too late. Check the event website for information as it becomes available to learn who is presenting, who is exhibiting, and maybe even who’s attending. Search that list for current partners you want to connect with, as well as potential partners and prospects that you want to meet with. Reach out in advance to make sure they’ll save some time to see you at the show.  

Also, overlay the event schedule with your calendar and mark the best opportunities to meet new contacts. If you’re attending with other members of your team, divide and conquer. It’s a simple matter of prioritizing and executing. 

2. Leverage partnerships.

If you are an upper-tier partner of and have a strong relationship with a vendor attending the trade show, you may be able to enlist their help. For example, the vendor may be able to use your brand during a demonstration or have your business represented in their booth in the exhibition hall. If your vendor partner is willing, make sure you do all you can to support them and provide any necessary materials.

3. Use the app.

Use the trade show app to its fullest. Doing so will help you stay on top of the event schedule while allowing time to create connections. Remember, all news is good news, so even if you provide feedback that other attendees can see or win a drawing, potential partners and clients know you’re attending the show and your business’ name is more visible. 

4. Get social.

Find out the event’s hashtag, its influencers’ handles, and which social media platforms attendees are using. Tweet or post often from presenters’ sessions, take photos, and share news. You may also be able to direct message people who engage with you on social media to set up a meeting or a call when you’re back in the office.

5. Continue to learn. 

Event organizers build educational seminars to help you learn more about your industry, the newest trends, and the latest advances in technology. Attend as many of these sessions as you can. After all, they may provide you with insights that can help you differentiate and grow your business. You’re also likely to learn tips from industry leaders that can reinvigorate your team and inspire them to take what you’ve learned and put it into action.

6. Don’t forget trade show basics.

Have you ever been at a trade show and realized you don’t have a portable power supply for your smartphone, counting on wifi when it wasn’t available? Ever worn the wrong (read uncomfortable) shoes?

Make sure you think through how your days will go and plan for contingencies – maybe go old school and keep a pen and pad in case tech fails and you need to exchange email addresses or phone numbers.

Also, keep in mind that just like monitoring performance in other areas of your business, you should keep track of results from attending trade shows and look for ways to improve in the future. This year may seem like starting over since returning to in-person events after pandemic shutdowns may mean new ways of doing things. So, be prepared to consider your first events as opportunities to benchmark meetings, contact information, leads, and other results. Then, find ways to improve on those numbers in the future.

Finally, build time into your schedule to enjoy visiting a new place and meeting new people. After a year of virtual-only events, you’ve earned it!