Make new and lasting business connections with these essential trade show networking tips.

Whether you want to learn about emerging technologies or are looking to meet interesting new suppliers, trade shows like IBC2022 offer unparalleled opportunities to grow your network. Yet such shows can also be overwhelming, especially one as vast and as diverse as IBC where almost 1,000 exhibitors have confirmed for this year’s show and are camped across multiple halls.

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Trade shows and conferences are easier to navigate when you know where you want to go and who you want to see.

The question is: how do you make the most of it? What are the secrets to successful trade show networking? These suggestions and tips (including advice from IBC veterans) might just help.

Be clear on your objectives

While it’s great to wander around a trade event such as IBC (there’s a lot to see), consider what you want to achieve from a show visit. Maybe it’s competitor research or learning more about emerging technologies? Or perhaps you’d like to meet new suppliers or showcase a new product?

By defining your business objectives at the start, you can maximise your ROI.

Have a (rough) plan of action

Amazingly, many people still go to trade shows without a plan of what they’re going to do when they get there. They simply turn up, wander around the show floor, randomly chat to a few exhibitors and generally fail to make the most of their time. Here are some useful resources.

What you should do instead is draw up a hit-list. Trade shows and conferences are easier to navigate when you know where you want to go and who you want to see. It gives your visit value when you can have meetings with companies that align with your business goals.

In an ideal world, book meetings before you go. Companies in your industry will usually announce that they will be attending shows well in advance and are open to meetings. While it’s tempting to book appointments with people or businesses you already know, check the show exhibitor list online for new opportunities. 

“If there is a product or exhibitor you really want to see,” says UK Radio Producer Ann Charles, “you can book a timed slot to have a demo. The most efficient way is to get in touch with the company before the event, but you can also rock up to the stand on your first day and then book appointments for later in the show… Booked appointments will always take priority over the people who just turn up.” 

Do this (but don’t do that)

Do plan your route. Shows like IBC are vast and so plotting your day (and your route) between appointments will ensure that you make the most of your time.

“This is vital if you are not going to lose a significant proportion of your time walking between halls,” says Jeremy Bancroft, Director at Media Asset Capital. “It can take over 15 minutes to get from one end of the [IBC] exhibition to the other, and once you have done that a few times, you have spent nearly an hour in transit and your feet will be starting to hurt (comfortable shoes are a must!).”

Create your own luck

There’s a quote that says: good luck is when opportunity meets preparation, while bad luck is when a lack of preparation meets reality. So, whenever you attend a trade show, don’t go into a meeting unprepared. It’s important to do your research. Know the names of the people you’ll be meeting, so you can make a good first impression. 

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If a conversation you’ve started doesn’t align with your business objectives, then politely wrap up and leave.

Do make the first move. For stands where you haven’t made an appointment, don’t lurk and wait to be approached by someone. Exhibitors go to shows like IBC2022 to meet new people and potential customers for their services or products. So, don’t be shy. Step up and start a conversation. You never know where it might lead.

At the same time, don’t oversell yourself. The secret to good networking is that success can be measured by starting a relationship or acquiring a lead, not necessarily making a sale. Once you’ve made a new connection, try to encourage a follow-up. Leave behind a business card (bring lots), a brochure, a press pack or even a product sample. What will make you stand out? What will make you memorable?

Make the most of meetings

Of course, some meetings just won’t work out. While meeting new people is what trade shows are all about, you need to keep your objectives firmly in mind. If a conversation you’ve started doesn’t align with your business objectives, then politely wrap up and leave. That way you don’t waste your time or that of the exhibitor. Similarly, if an exhibitor you’re talking to looks distracted, they might not be interested in your business. Shut the conversation down and move on.

Look out for other networking opportunities at the shows you visit. These might include: mixers, panels, discussions, networking events (like breakfasts and lunches) and after-show parties - Broadcast Projects publishes a handy list. By attending these events, you can maximise your relationship building time in more casual environments. After all, not all deals are done on the show floor.

Download the app

Many trade shows will also have an app to help you make the most of your visit. These typically enable you to search through the exhibitor list and help you navigate the show via an interactive map. The bigger shows now include AI-powered matchmaking features in their apps to auto-suggest like-minded people you may want to meet.

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Download the IBC App for iOS and Android.

And when the show is over, don’t let your networking momentum fade. Follow up with those companies that you connected with and develop them from connections into leads and, hopefully, into customers or suppliers.

Improve your business networking 

IBC2022 offers much more beyond the show floor. Look out for other networking opportunities too. These might include: mixers, panels, discussions, networking events (like breakfasts and lunches) and after-show parties. Don’t wait for people to come to you.

Take more business cards that you think you need and consider a ‘leave-behind’ asset. This leaflet or brochure or branded freebie can (a) remind people who you are and (b) show people more about what you can do for them.

Finally, here’s a smart tip from behavioral investigator Vanessa Van Edwards: “Your last impression is just as important as your first impression.” Again, with almost 1,000 exhibitors at IBC2022, time can be precious. So, the way you leave a conversation at a show is just as important as how you start one.

“The art of the lasting impression,” says Edwards, “is all about giving someone clear exit cues. Especially if you have someone who wants to talk and talk and talk, subtlety is not going to work for you. After many years of conference-going and many failed exit attempts, I have learned the direct approach is always respectful and appreciated. I created this Exit Formula: Genuine Compliment + Follow-up Item + Handshake = Lasting Impression.”

For more show news, including product launches and interviews with key exhibitors, check out our IBC2022 Highlights page.