20 years ago I went to trade shows; 10 years ago I went to conferences, now I go to Symposiums. As Billy Joel sang, “it’s still Rock and Roll to me”

Here is the differentiation, as provided by Webster:

Trade Show:                            

a formal gathering at which vendors from a specific industry showcase and demonstrate their products


an academic gathering where a group of individuals with common interests exchange ideas and discuss related topics. 


a social gathering for the free exchange of ideas (the original Greek Symposia were quite literally drinking parties)

Call it what you will, but these events, which seem to be growing exponentially in number, have remained fundamentally the same:

  • End Users attend hoping to collect just ONE NEW IDEA
  • Vendors and Consultants attend hoping to collect just ONE GOOD LEAD
  • End Users posture as if they are not looking to purchase anything
  • Vendors and Consultants posture as if we are not looking to sell anything

Recently, I have been dissatisfied with my experiences at Tradeshows, Conferences and Symposiums alike. For the rest of this blog, I shall use the term “event”.

It seems that surprisingly little individual preparation takes place prior to an event. I find this very frustrating.

 As groups, we put in time planning our logistics. But as individuals, how much time do we spend planning how our time at the event will be spent? Do we go with a specific set of goals? Have we established criteria for judging how the event met these goals?

In the Marine Corps, we used to say, “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance”. It seems to me that most attendees (both vendors and delegates) show up at an event with no plan, and then gripe that it was a lousy event. This doesn’t make sense. We are all familiar with the generic definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

Here are some suggestions that may well prevent such “insanity'':

For Vendors:

·         Do your homework and vet whether or not your target audience will be attending the event

·         Add value by sharing objective views on your market segment (this will earn you the opportunity to pitch your product or service later, at a scheduled meeting)

·         Don’t make the exhibit hall experience a “scan a thon” Take only the contact info of people who express genuine interest in your product or service

·         Create a Pre-event process for scheduling meetings at the conference

·         Don’t do a sales pitch at the event! Not in your booth, not during a presentation!

For Delegates:

·         Select the sessions you’d like to attend well in advance of your arrival (programs and agendas are always available at least 30 days in advance

·         Choose the vendors you are interested to meet with. If possible make contact and set an appointment.

·         If there is an exhibition floor, set aside time to walk through! You never know what you might find.

·         Let Vendors know if you’d like to be contacted in the future, and, if so, for what purpose (general info/specific need)

·         Above all: Fill out the evaluation forms!! Your voice will be heard and will serve to make future events more valuable for all.