Visiting an industry trade show? Discover how Matt Storey, director – business development at Gallowglass, navigates the aisles of an industry event


Do you actually enjoy going to industry trade shows? Personally, I feel the life force being sucked out of me at the prospect of a prolonged encounter with a clutch of round-shouldered, depressed “sales people”, giving off an unhealthy whiff of desperation. Their interest in selling wristbands and lanyards is precisely equal to mine in buying them.

Then there are the eager beavers stepping out in front of you, blocking your path with a manic smile while pointedly scrutinising your badge to gauge your business potential. Neither approach is likely to generate much in the way of positive interaction.

But, love them or loathe them, if you don’t go, nothing will change, guaranteed. If you do, you might just be opening the door to a potential gem. In my view, there are some life skills that can enhance the entire experience, and as a seasoned campaigner, let me share mine.

Firstly, I like to sign up with an interesting title. Dr, Professor, Admiral, Supreme Allied Commander. It makes for a good talking point. Be prepared to be zapped. Repeatedly. Nothing you can say will stop them doing this, so live with it.

Don’t pick up a “free bag”. It contains flyers and nothing of any value.

Navigating the floor is an art. Be on the alert for the eight-foot robot. It relentlessly stalks the uninitiated until a wan smile has been extracted in response to its inexorable stream of inane banter. The barbershop quartet and the “joker” on stilts will similarly impede your progress.

Never saunter slowly with an expectant expression on your face; you’ll be easy meat. At the larger halls, the generous space between stands makes it quite easy to walk purposefully with the air of someone late for a meeting. But the smaller venues will have narrower aisles that are routinely choked with people, so you wouldn’t so much be striding briskly as treading water.

When this happens, adopt the old Mobile Phone Technique. Clamp the phone to your ear, assume a look of puzzlement and pretend you’re listening to voicemail. No one will interrupt you, since the commonest sight at any trade show is someone trying to find the person they’ve optimistically promised to “catch up with” having only made the sketchiest arrangement for time and place.

Beware the arse end of the show, easily identifiable by all the shell scheme; a series of identical white boxes populated with one round table, one chair, a solitary pop up and one person with a 1000-mile stare contemplating death. You do not want what they have to sell.

Know that some exhibitors may quite rightly resent visiting suppliers being allowed in without even having to pay for an entry ticket. (This won’t change while visitor numbers remain the key success metric.) Any self-respecting exhibition attendee should understand that it’s bad etiquette to treat stand-holders as sitting ducks for a sales pitch. They’ve had to fork out £5,000 to be there, so anyone not buying should leave them to concentrate on achieving some ROI.

My trick for getting the best out of a trade show is to scope out the watering holes. Determine which one gets the most footfall (usually the one in the centre). Pick the tallest table with the greatest vantage point, preferably at the edge, and sit there. See and be seen. Pluck people out of the crowd, buy them alcohol, stay there for seven hours and spend the rest of the year taking clients to lunch. Job done.

And a final cautionary word: don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re off the hook in the loo. Men: when weeing, go private (cubicle) or if full, head for the urinal between the wall and the one that’s out of order. That way you can avoid any unintentional eye contact with the man in orange trying to sell you Holland!