Getting the most out of a trade show

My Expo plans and advice for those attending for the first time (especially for introverts!)

Getting the most out of a trade show
Photo by Noriely Fernandez / Unsplash

Updated on March 26, 2024, for more current info.

Expo context (originally published in April 2023)

While I am incredibly excited to see industry friends in person for the first time in four years, I’m also cognizant of my limits. The last coffee event I attended was a qualifiers competition in Nashville in January 2020. There were just the right amount of people there.

My last Expo was in 2019 in Boston, and the whole trip was a shit show. I nearly got into two car accidents, both with drivers not obeying road rules. I lost my voice on Thursday (the day before the event began). Then when I finally got to go home, my flight was delayed, but they couldn’t book me a local hotel room because the Boston Marathon had just started. So instead, they sent me to Denver, where we landed around midnight, and then I was up at 6 am for the next flight home.

I’ve been to Expo enough times to prepare myself, but I always, inevitably, end up spending the week after avoiding all people and attempting to replenish my energy. I want to say there’s this silent agreement among many of us not to send those networking follow-up emails the week after. Working a booth saps you in a different way than only attending does. Either way, trade shows are exhausting. It’s best to know that going in, but there are definitely things you can do to get ready for it.

Tips for attending a trade show, from an introvert POV

Here are some tips for making the most out of your next trade show, written from the perspective of a very introverted person:

  • Prepare: Set up those meetings with calendar invites (“I’ll stop by sometime so we can talk sales!” is not helpful). Put those social events on your calendar and know which ones you definitely want to attend, and which would be nice if you had the energy. You do not need to attend everything. Know the booth numbers of companies you want to visit.
  • Know your social and sensory limits: This means listening to your gut. Even the most extroverted of people are exhausted after Expo. One time, I waited in a very long line to get into a party, and by the time I got in, I was hit with deafening beats and moving lights. I was lucky enough to run into a friend in the back outdoor space who took one look at my face and asked if I needed help leaving. She grabbed my hand, led me through the crowd, and waited with me for my Uber. I’d never hit the introvert wall that hard before; it was an intense shock to my system. In retrospect, I was probably also having a panic attack. You may get FOMO, but your mental health takes priority here.
  • Set up small goals: Are you attending for networking? Tell yourself that you’ll make five (or whatever number) of connections a day. If you’re feeling okay to do more, then great. If not, then you hit your goal and congrats, you can go rest.
  • Bring all the business cards: I know in this age of social media, it’s easy just to hit the follow button. However, people’s profiles don’t always have their real names or faces. Put your social handles on your business card if you really want that connection.
  • Take notes: Write on those business cards you receive! Document details about the person, what you talked about, and if any follow-up is needed. If you didn’t get a business card, keep one big note for all the contacts you make. This way, when you follow-up, you can say, “Hi, I’m Jenn, we met at Game Night, and we talked about plants we killed.” I’m sure the email recipient will also be grateful for the detail, especially if they forgot how you met.
  • Pack granola bars and a water bottle: It's very easy at Expo to overcaffeinate. Bring granola bars for emergency snacking and a water bottle to refill while there. This bullet point was suggested by a friend. Unless the convention center has excellent food (rare), make plans for lunch. Before the show, I like to do a grocery run and pack my own lunch. The lines for the convention center restaurants/cafes can get very long.
  • Do one big, quick loop: I don’t know what other trade show floors are like with exhibits. Expo has a lot of booths, and you can get distracted quickly. As early as possible in the event, I make one big loop, walking up and down every aisle. If you prepared, you already made your list of companies you want to visit. This big loop is to make sure you haven’t missed any. Once you’ve narrowed it down, you can go directly back to those booths.
  • Leave the convention center: If you’re not locked into the convention center because of a booth or meetings, you should leave it at some point. You can always return later. It’s draining to spend an entire day in an enclosed space. Go out and grab lunch, visit a cafe, breathe in some fresh air, and explore the city.
  • Take the next day off: If you can, I highly recommend taking at least the day after off from work. After several days of talking to people, I’m sure you also need to recharge.

I know some of you on this list have attended many trade shows—I’d love to know what advice you’d share for those attending for their first time.

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article links, personal updates, and a plant feature

📝 Notes from Jenn:

I’m feeling rather overwhelmed, as I’ve been dealing with food poisoning since Sunday (I can finally eat small bites), and this was supposed to be my recharge week before I head to Portland on Monday. I apologize if you see typos, grammar errors, or missing words that I haven’t caught. My brain is also still recovering.

Expo (one of the coffee industry’s largest trade conferences) is next weekend. I’ll be in Portland on April 17-24 for it, and I’m quite anxious since it’s my first big coffee event in four years. I think attendance is back up to the pre-pandemic level of 15k now. So if you’re in the industry and you’ll be there, too, maybe I’ll see you at one of these places: Re:co, Expo Game Night (it returns! and I’m co-hosting!), Feeding Portland, Asian Producers Roasters & Baristas, Coffee Asians meetup, Coffee Prom, or sometimes in Acaia’s booth #909.

🔏 Last week, paid subscribers received an update on some article topics and projects that I’m working on.

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