I used to work for a convention center as a cashier during all the big expos and conventions. Now I’m on the other side, walking the show floor and holding meetings throughout the day at several exhibitor booths. Regardless of the industry, there are ten “insider tips” I’d give to anyone who has the opportunity to attend an expo, conference or convention.

1–Bring a water bottle you can refill.

When I worked for the convention center, I used to tell my angry customers that the Convention Center water was magical, and that’s why it was so expensive. That usually got a sympathy laugh, but bringing your own water bottle and refilling at the water fountains is definitely the way to go. I’d add a slice of lemon to the water bottle because some drinking fountain water doesn’t taste that good.

2–Stay hydrated.

Attending a conventions, conference or expo usually involves a jam-packed day of walking the floor and meeting people. Dehydration leads to fatigue, and sometimes grumpiness, not to mention the increased risk of binging on free samples (see tip number 3).

3–Go Easy on the free samples.

This tip is especially relevant to food industry expos like Natural Products Expo or IFT, but at any expo there are the people who get so excited by all the free pens, buttons and stress balls that they take home more branded junk than they need.  When it comes to food/beverage and supplement industry expos, it helps to remember that some samples are carefully monitored and frequently refreshed, and some samples are neglected and exposed for hours. In rare cases this neglect and exposure could lead to microbial growth or contamination. In most cases abandoned samples will just suffer sensory degradation, meaning they taste much less appealing than they do made fresh. As a food scientist, it makes me nervous when the Sales Rep wants to offer a sample tasting bar… (“Okay but pleaaaassee don’t leave the tasting cups out for more than 30 minutes or my baby won’t taste like it’s supposed to!”)

4–Bring plenty of business cards.

It’s better to have a surplus of business cards and not need them than to miss the opportunity to connect with someone (or the opportunity to win a free iPad in those business card raffles I always see at expos).  Furthermore, with every business card you hand out you reduce your risk of having to throw away recycle those cards when you’re promoted or change jobs.

5–Bring hand warmers.

Seriously, stopping at a sporting goods store and buying the camping pack of hand warmers may be the best expo/convention/conference investment I’ve ever made. Convention centers are always cold. Aside from the crankiness and drowsiness, the cold can lead to other uncomfortable conditions (see tip number 6).

6–Take an “Essentials Kit”.

Cold air can lead to chapped hands and chapped lips, so bring a mini-bottle of lotion and some chap-stick. When you meet people for the first time at expos and conventions, you want to make a good first-impression and not be worried about a hangnail or whether or not your lunch is still in your teeth.  Bring floss and a toothbrush, a nail file or clippers, and a small packet of tissues. Ladies, you may want to bring a few other items…like bobby pins and makeup. If I had a nickle for every woman that’s asked me for a rubber band or bobby pin when I worked at the convention center, I’d have enough money to buy Convention Center water.

purse essentials expo
file under “just in case”

7–Bring your own food (and caffeine!)

Food at these types of events is either free (see tip number 3) or expensive (see tip number 1). Since it’s usually a jam-packed day, people don’t have time to stand in line for 30 minutes for lunch. The alternative is to bring in your own food. Cuties, RTD protein shakes, baby carrots and pre-sliced apples with nuts or peanut butter are good snacks to bring along because they’re small, mess-free and not temperature-dependent. With all the free samples it’s probably not necessary to eat a whole 500 calorie lunch. As for the caffeine, well, it’s not a necessity for everyone. Some people find caffeine helps if they have to work the booth or walk the floor all day. It also helps some people stay engaged and friendly/peppy when they’ve got meeting after meeting after meeting.

8–Don’t look down on those with backpacks.

By the end of the day the free, branded, reusable bag you got at the door is straining with the weight and volume of all the flyers, free pens and samples you’ve amassed throughout the day. I know it looks silly, but a backpack is not something to scoff at. A backpack is actually a good idea if you have to bring a laptop for some of your convention presentations or meetings, a jacket for layering up in the cold, or a pair of comfy shoes (see tip number 9).  Of course there are some exceptions, and some backpacks that should be left at home…

frog backpack
Little Spark wants to come to the expo

9–Bring comfy shoes (and a pedometer).

Walking the floor is great exercise (but maybe not enough exercise to justify all the free samples you’ll consume). You’d be surprised how many miles you walk during events like this so it’s a good idea to wear a pedometer. The comfy shoes tip is one many people have already figured out. When I worked the convention center it was always fun to see how the footwear evolved from Day 1 of the expo through to the last day of the event. By the end, everyone is in flats so don’t feel bad if you have to trade style for comfort. If anyone makes fun of your kicks, challenge them to a foot race.

10–Bring a cell phone charger.

Convention centers don’t always get the best reception, and your smart phone may spend its battery power searching for a signal the whole day. Even if the signal was fantastic, battery power dwindles rapidly when you’re using the expo app on your smart phone, taking pictures of booths or exhibits, or using GPS to find your way back to your hotel.

With these 10 tips and tricks, you can avoid the common problems and pitfalls of the typical expo. Have any tips/tricks to add?

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