ideavation’s Ultimate Trade Show Survival Guide

All of us at ideavation HQ are bidding bon voyage to Managing Director Scott Hulbert as he prepares for his annual Asia trip. Next week, Scott will be attending the biggest promo products trade shows in the world. First stop: the Hong Kong Houseware Fair, followed by the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China and then finally back to Hong Kong for the Gifts & Premium Fair. His mission? To marvel at the latest products and innovations, to strengthen our crucial business partnerships and develops new connections that enable us to deliver the highest of standards of service and the best new items to our clients.

Trade shows are magical places where vendors and suppliers can meet face-to-face and cultivate some serious innovation. But for newcomers to the trade show scene, it can be quite an overwhelming experience! With two decades in the industry, Scott’s trade show game is outstanding. Today on the blog, we run down Scott Hulbert’s top tips and tricks to optimize your trade show experience.


International travel requires intense planning!

In this day and age, going without your mobile device is just not an option. Make sure you have your international data plan worked out well in advance so you can conduct business with no interruptions.

Download the trade show app on your phone

You’ll have access to all schedules and exhibitor info right at your fingertips. You can plug in your desired booth for exact walking directions, and you’ll be able to scan each exhibitor booth’s QR code to instantly download their information. The Hong Kong Gifts and Premium Fair is now providing your visitor’s badge through their app. The Canton Fair app even gives you access to the venue Wi-Fi!

Set your goals

Attending a trade show can be a huge investment in time and money so make sure you’re there to do more than just take in the sights. Scott recommends brainstorming some solid, realistic goals before your departure. Maybe you’re looking to get ahead of the next big thing, or make five new business contacts. Remember your SMARTs!

Preschedule your meetings

Review the list of exhibitors and preemptively reach out to those you’re most interested in to set a meeting appointment right at their booth. Exhibitors will interact with thousands of buyers throughout the show, so make sure they’re expecting you!


If not, you’ll find yourself wasting the crucial first hours of your day standing in line. Huge bummer.

Order a fresh batch of business cards

You’re way better off having too many than too few.


Do a clean-up of your phone storage

You’re going to be meeting a lot of people and taking in a lot of information. Your storage limit can really sneak up on you!



Bring your own bag

Scott likes to take his roller carry-on right to the show to collect literature and samples, along with the essentials you don’t want to be caught without, such as…

  • All tech essentials

It’s a long day and you’ll need your devices running perfectly. Pack your power bank, your charging cables, and, most importantly, your overseas power adapter.

  • More stationery supplies than you think you need

Pens. Sharpies. A notebook. A mini stapler. Backup mini staples. Binder clips. Sticky notes! Boy scout rules apply here.

  • Health and wellness supplies

Walking the floor requires a lot of energy, so you’ll need to refuel. Concessions at trade shows are notoriously overpriced, so pack a few healthy snacks (such as fruits, nuts, and protein bars) and plenty of water to tide you over between meals. It’s not a bad idea to pack some Aspirin as well — you’ll be fighting jet lag in the midst of a bustling crowd, and a headache can really sink your productivity.

Wear Comfy shoes

Don’t be a hero! No-one will be impressed by your fancy footwear if you end up hobbling around the floor on tender toes.

Keep an open mind

Remember, you’re here to learn. As a businessperson, it’s your job to adapt to whatever the market throws at you.

Ask pointed questions

A good rule of thumb: Don’t ask a question if it can be answered by visiting the company website. Instead, get exhibitors talking. Really talking. “How have other companies used this product? How successful were they?”

Take advantage of the educational seminars

It might be temping to give these a miss, but we highly recommend attending at least one a day. Not only will you gain valuable insights, but you’ll have put yourself in the room with industry leaders, increasing your chances of making an advantageous connection.

Join the social media conversation

The internet enhances the trade show experience by getting attendees in touch, even if they didn’t get a chance to physically meet. Try to schedule 20-minute breaks every few hours to rest your feet and check in on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Know the hashtags, scroll the feed, talk about what you’ve learned, and don’t be afraid to engage directly with other attendees! Old-fashioned cocktail party rules don’t apply online, so feel free jump right in on any conversation that interests you.

Take lots of photos

A thorough photo record can jog your memory about details that might have gotten lost in the chaos, and you’ll have tons of fodder for social media, as well as personalized material to show your clients. Don’t be afraid to commemorate your new connections with a selfie, and share it (with their permission) to your company’s Instagram story.

Don’t get bogged down in any one booth

These fairs are enormous; you gotta keep it moving. If you find that you’ve been lingering for ten minutes or longer, politely excuse yourself and move onto the next booth. Remember, you can always come back.

Get yourself invited to the after-hours fun

Company hospitality suites and cocktail hours are about way more than free finger foods. Strong bonds are forged while attendees relax and unwind from a long day on the floor, and some of the best business Scott has ever done was at the host hotel’s lobby bar.

Make yourself memorable

Trade shows are NOT the place to fly under the radar. You’re out of the office, so let your quirks shine through! In his early promo days, Scott took a big chance and donned a vintage 70s outfit, complete with a giant afro wig. The look was a resounding success, and by the end of the show, he’d practically become a celebrity!

Plan to leave before the end!

How long can the lines get for buses and cabs? Don’t stick around to find out!



Don’t wait to follow up

By now, you should have a list of exhibitors you’re interested in working with. The time is ripe to make that lasting connection. Make sure they remember you!

Take detailed notes while your impressions are fresh

It’s amazing how quickly details you never think you’d forget will slip away. Get them on paper now. We guarantee you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve already forgotten by the time you review your notes on the plane ride home.

Review your notes and photos a few days later

The creative brain is fueled by a good night’s sleep. Once you’ve recovered from your jet lag, go over your notes and see if any new inspiration jumps out at you. Make sure to follow up with your contacts to share your lasting impressions.

Make your social media connections

Beef up your social contacts with all of your new trade show friends. In our business, connectivity is crucial. Who knows how that one random LinkedIn connect will come back to benefit you in the future?


Going to Hong Kong and Guangzhou this week? Care to share your own trade show survival tips? Let’s connect at