How to Network Effectively at Trade Shows


It’s trade show season, time to get your business cards ordered and Trade shows are not just an opportunity to visit vendors and learn about the newest products and services that can help build your business. Trade shows are an opportunity to network and create and build relationships that can propel you and your brand to unknown opportunities. Trade shows are an ideal setting to network with other professionals, and can be the source for new job opportunities, business alliances, and professional collaborations.

5 Tips to Network at Trade Shows

1.  What’s Your Body Language?

Are your posture, facial expression and eye contact inviting? It’s easy to get overwhelmed and distracted at trade shows, and walk the aisles hunched over with your nose glued to your smart phone or your eyes fixated on the booth. Stand straight and tall, look around you and give the appearance that you’re interested in interacting with others. You don’t need to put a fake smile on your face – just don’t scowl! First impressions count: make yours welcoming.

2. Wear Your Name Tag or Badge

Your nametag isn’t just your ticket to gain access to the trade show. It’s your calling card – it quickly identifies who you are and invites conversation topics. Make sure your name, title and company are prominently displayed. If your name is misspelled or information is missing, ask the conference organizers to create a new badge, or borrow a heavy marker to create your own. Many experienced trade show attendees insert their business card into the plastic badge so their information is accurate and their company logo is prominently displayed.

tip: If your trade show distributes name tags, make sure to attach your name tag to your upper chest opposite the hand you extend to shake. So if you shake with your right hand, your name tag should be on the left side of your chest so you don’t block your name when you extend your hand.

3. Perfect Your Elevator Speech

Create and practice a 30-second elevator speech that introduces you and delivers your message. Anytime someone says, "Tell me about yourself," your elevator speech is ready to tell your story:

  • Get to the Point: You have only 30-45 seconds to hold their attention
  • Be Clear: Use language everyone understands
  • Demonstrate Strength: Use words that are memorable and command attention

4. Practice Business Card Etiquette

Knowing when and how to offer and exchange business cards is what makes the difference between extending a business card that gets read and entered into a contact list, and one that gets pitched into the trash. Trade shows are not a contest to see who can collect the most business cards: one useful business card is better than a pocketful that will be thrown away.

Canadian etiquette expert Julie Blais Commeau advises, If you are really getting along and think that you can do business together, suggest meeting at a later date and offer your business card. Never ask for the other's card, especially someone of higher rank. By offering, you give the other the choice to reciprocate or not.

5.  Carry a Pen

A smart phone is not efficient for making a quick note. If someone hands you their business card and mentions a new project they’re launching which could benefit from your services, don’t waste time writing their name and number in your smart phone, just whip out an old-school pen and take a note right on their business card. You can upload the information to your technology later.

tip: Follow-Up After the Trade Show

Alice Heiman, founder and chief sales officer of sales consulting and coaching firm Alice Heiman LLC, gave this example as a “’light’ version of a follow-up email after a networking event. However, she noted that the follow-up approach should vary depending on the prospect’s interest level and the context of the meeting. In addition, salespeople should research prospects to personalize their communications as much as possible.

Dear [Prospect],

What an exciting show. I hope you made great connections and learned some things you can use in your business immediately.

I am sure that increasing sales effectively [objective] is on the top of your list. As we promised, here is “Six Ways to Increase Your Sales” [piece of content]. If you would like more in-depth information on any of the ways [details of content], I’d be delighted to have a 30 minute conversation with you to dive into that.

I’m here to be a resource to you, so don’t hesitate to call.

Best regards,


Preparing for a trade show is more than just ordering business cards and clearing your calendar. Important professional networking opportunities at trade shows offer an ideal occasion to grow your business and build new relationships. Following these trade show networking tips will optimize your time and maximize your opportunities.