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Everything You Need to Know About Technology Trade Shows

Oct. 05, 2017
Zane Schweer

Trade shows can provide additional training and certification testing

IT and general technology trade shows offer ample opportunities for learning about the latest trends and product releases in an environment outside of the office. They also provide opportunities for training and achieving sought-after certifications. 

We’ve attended and exhibited at trade shows around the world for over 20 years. We’ve seen people approach trade shows the right way and the wrong way, but what constantly strikes a chord with us is hearing that attending a trade show sometimes takes up a team or individual’s entire training budget.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed or lose sight of why you originally came to a show—especially if you don’t have a plan. As a result, we created a complete guide for maximizing your trade show experience covering learning sessions and business needs, achieving certifications, to having fun. Both trade show veterans and first-timers alike will find helpful information in this piece. We even highlight five things trade show exhibitors wish you knew.

So let’s begin…

How to pick the right technology trade show

According to our 2018 global IT Skills and Salary report, almost 60% of IT professionals attend seminars, luncheons or technical conferences for professional development, so picking the right show is vital.

To pick the best show, you need to set goals.

  • What are you hoping to accomplish at the show?
  • Do you want to learn about the latest technologies?
  • Is there a new product launch that will be critical to your business?
  • What are the training opportunities?
  • What are the networking opportunities?
  • Can you take a certification exam?


A reputable conference will have a website rife with information that can help answer these questions and more.

For example, if you work with Cisco technologies every day and are pursuing a Cisco certification, it would be wise to attend Cisco Live. The show focuses on all things Cisco such as technology announcements and updates, learning sessions and plenty of opportunities to explore Cisco solutions.

And, you can take your next certification exam at the show!

Look who's attending

Other aspects to look for in a show is to look at who’s attending. Trade shows are some of the best opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with thought leaders, subject matter experts, vendors and even fellow attendees. While the larger headliners will have their own speaking sessions and be harder to come across, they do walk the trade show floor, so keep your eyes open. They might also be at specific booths.

Shows provide ample opportunities to meet vendors who can provide valuable information about their products and services. Exhibiting vendors often have subject matter experts on hand who you won’t typically have access to in other settings, so ask them your questions.

Pro tip: Have questions prepared, but don’t bring them outstanding customer service issues. Use the one-on-one time with these experts to figure out if the company is a good fit for you.

Once you’ve chosen your show, it’s time to purchase your ticket.

How to plan and purchase your ticket, aka your trade show badge

Go to the show’s website and purchase. Sometimes you can pay with vendor learning credits. For example, Cisco accepts Cisco Learning Credits (CLCs) as a form of payment. Once you’ve registered, review your confirmation email and verify your badge credentials are correct. Also, shows tend to have early bird specials so try to make your decision early enough to take advantage.

Pro tip: If a show is sold out, reach out to contacts that might have a connection to the show. For example, your Microsoft account manager might have extra badges for Microsoft Ignite.

What is a trade show badge?

Badges traditionally have your name, the company you work for, the event and a bar code or RFID capability built in. It’s your ticket to everything and without it, you won’t be allowed into the show or any of its events. Keep an eye on it as well because a replacement will run you anywhere from $100 and up.

The ability to scan your badge has a few different purposes. The major one is for visibility into what sessions you attend. Secondarily, vendors will scan your badge after they hand out their swag or talk to you about their products. It’s their way to connect with you after the show and start or continue the conversation.

Key trade show logistics: travel, accommodations, getting around and attire

Provide travel time and don’t take a red eye flight

When traveling, anything can happen. If your flight is delayed or you miss your flight all together, you want to provide a cushion so you don’t potentially miss the start of the convention. Thinking of taking a red eye to save some time? Rethink your choice. You’ll be on your feet and walking around—a lot—so you want to be well-rested.


Each show’s website typically has an “Attendees” section where they show the preferred hotels with discounted room rates.

Pro-tip: Before booking your hotel, double check there isn’t any construction that may affect how you get to the show.

Pro-tip #2: Double check you have a reservation before you leave. Nobody wants to show up and not have a room.

How to travel between the hotel, trade show and around town

Hotel shuttles, public transportation, Uber or Lyft, and taxis are options. However, invest in great shoes because you will be walking a ton.

Before you leave your hotel and head to the trade show

  • Double check the weather.
  • Verify when registration opens—you don’t want to get there too early or too late and wait in line.
  • Verify what identification is required. You will not be able to pick up your badge without a form of identification.  
  • Re-read the security requirements. Bags may or may not be allowed. There could be bag inspections. If you don’t want the added responsibility of checking a bag in and out of a bag check, leave it in your room.
  • Do the training sessions you’ve selected require a tablet or laptop?
  • Download the show app if there is one.
  • Make sure you have your badge if you’ve already registered.
  • Bring your business cards for networking.
  • Ask the front desk if there is any new construction that may affect how you get to the show.
  • Make sure you have your badge. (It’s intentionally listed twice)


When, where and what to eat

Depending on the show, your meals might be included in the ticket price.

You’ll find coffee throughout the day and depending on the show breakfast, lunch and hors d'oeuvres around dinner time. Lunches range from simple box lunches to thought out meals to meet everyone’s preferences (i.e., vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters).

Cocktail hours are always popular events. They average a couple hours, are in designated areas and can occur at different times throughout the day. Occasionally an exhibitor may serve beer and wine in their booth, but don’t count on it.

Pro tip: Food lines build up quickly, but they move quickly because there are usually a number of stations throughout the show floor. If one is too long, you can always find another—or just wait it out. If you see food coming, line up.

Pro tip #2: If you don’t want to eat at the show, ask the locals for the must-eat places.


Trade show attire and dress code

Find the balance between the dress code (if there is one it’s usually business casual) and comfort. You’ll be on your feet for an extended period of time. You don’t want blisters or achy feet slowing you down or taking you out. If there isn’t a dress code, you still want to present yourself professionally—you never know who you might bump into or meet. First impressions matter.

Pro tip: This is the time to invest in great insoles or inserts for your shoes. Some booths will have extra padded carpets, but you won’t be talking to one company the whole day.



There will be a lot of it. If you don’t know what swag is, get ready for an onslaught of pens, gadgets, T-shirts and company-branded trinkets. If you can’t bring a backpack onto the floor, become resourceful—look for an exhibitor that has bags. Then become really resourceful when you try to fit it all in your suitcase.

Now that we’ve covered some trade show basics, it’s time to get into the section that will do you the most good.

What to do when your IT training budget is also your trade show budget

If this is your one chance to train in a year, you need to maximize your trade show experience.

Individual breakout training sessions

Trade shows have breakout sessions where you learn about specific topics. Some sessions require reservations in advance and others are first come, first serve. If there is one you just have to attend, either make sure you register ahead of time or arrive early.

Other considerations:

  • Are there prerequisites? No one wants to be halfway through a session and realize they’re in over their head.
  • Do you need to bring a device? More shows are having attendees use their tablet or laptop to participate. Make sure you have any required software downloaded and installed.


Don’t forget what you learned—take notes

You’ll be going non-stop during the show, so take notes during your sessions (in a notebook or on your phone) and review them periodically until you’re back in the office and can put them into practice. Even better, share and train the larger team when you return. Teaching your team what you learned is a great way to prove the benefits of IT training and allow you to return the next year and increase your training budget.

Explore an emerging technology

Educating yourself about what’s going on in the industry ensures your organization is continuously trying to improve and stay on top of the ever-changing technology.

Get certified! Take a certification exam at a trade show testing center

Make the most of your time and budget by picking trade shows that offer certification testing centers. Knock out two birds with one stone—attend a show and get certified. Shows hosted by AWS, Cisco, IBM, and more offer mobile certification exam testing centers for their certifications. So, for example, if you’re pursuing an AWS certification, take the exam at AWS re:Invent.

Here’s a short list of some of the big IT trade shows that traditionally have testing centers:


If you know you’re pursuing a certification and will be attending a trade show later in the year, use it as an opportunity to map out your exam preparation training plan. Make sure you know if you need to register for the free or discounted exam prior to arriving at the exam center.


When it comes to passing a certification exam, luck favors the prepared

Explore our large collection of certification resources such as our specific exam test-taking tips blogs, Boot Camps, and our “A Complete Guide” series that provides in-depth insights into specific certifications, all focused on helping you prepare for—and pass— your exam.

Certification exams may be free at some of these shows, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them seriously. Very few individuals can just breeze into a testing site and pass an exam with little to no prep. Take advantage of this opportunity. Start preparing for your certification exam the moment you sign up for the show. If you do your homework beforehand you may just be able to add a nice credential to your resume as a result of your trade show excursion.


Tried and true certification exam test-taking tips

  • Be well rested.
  • Eat breakfast. If the exam is later in the day, eat a snack prior.
  • Use the restroom right before you enter the testing room.
  • Bring a sweatshirt (the A/C could be blasting soul-freezing air).
  • Know where the testing location is ahead of time. Sometimes the testing center is an entirely different location away from the expo floor.
  • Know what time your exam starts and get there early. If you’re late, they won’t let you inside.
  • Pearson VUE has a quick video on certification exam tips.


Specific certification exam tips

Certification prep guides

If the trade show is quickly approaching and you’ve realized time is of the essence or want one last review cycle, take a boot camp. Boot camps are accelerated courses that cover a lot of information quickly.


Here are some of our popular training boot camps:




View the master list of boot camps and accelerated courses.

If you need additional guidance for how to prepare for a certification, give us a call at 800-268-7737 and speak with a training advisor. It’s free!

Networking at trade shows

Bring plenty of business cards.

Throughout the expo floor, seminars, individual sessions and after-hour networking events, there are plenty of opportunities to network with fellow technologists. If you’re new to networking or not sure how to approach it, read Entrepreneur’s 7 Tips for Networking to help you prepare.

Pro tip: After you meet someone and part ways, jot down a couple notes about what you talked about. Then when you get back home and want to connect, you can jog the person’s memory about your conversation. Vendors will be doing the same thing if you have specific questions.

5 things trade show exhibitors wish you knew

Exhibitors have a front-row seat to everything trade shows, so we asked Ruth Patterson, Global Knowledge’s trade show director, who has personally attended over 200 shows, to share five things exhibitors wish attendees knew.

  • Take a little time to familiarize yourself with the expo floor and hours. I've seen too many people look like lost children.
  • Map out what vendors are a must-visit. But expect to find new ones!
  • Set aside time to visit the entire expo—it is usually large and overwhelming.
  • Swag goes fast—don’t wait until the last day!
  • Good shows give you a reason to visit the expo floor each day—read the schedule!


Pro tip: For the men reading this, technology shows tend to have a higher percentage of men so expect to stand in lines for the bathrooms. For the women reading this, enjoy not having to wait!

Using event social media and live streaming features

John Mark Ivey, our Social Media Manager, has attended over 25 shows and over 20 shows virtually and socially. Here’s what he says about event social media and show streaming:

You can expect every conference to have some level of social media activity and presence during the event. Being aware of conference social channels can greatly enhance your conference experience.

Follow the hashtag – Every conference has a hashtag. Some conference hashtags are more intuitive than others, like #vmworld for VMware’s VMworld, as opposed to #clus for Cisco Live US. Large trade shows like Microsoft’s Ignite and IBM THINK, which cover many topics, will potentially utilize many hashtags like #MSSharepoint, #IBMWatson and #IBMAnalytics, in addition to event hashtags #MSIgnite and #IBMTHINK.

Conference-specific LinkedIn groups and Facebook pages – Large conferences will also have separate LinkedIn groups and Facebook pages for their events. These are great channels to keep up with show highlights and announcements, engage with attendees before and after the event, and for networking as well. These event-specific social channels also have a treasure trove of related articles, webinars and training on popular conference topics if they are run correctly.


What if you can’t make it to the show?

Event live streaming – Do you have that one conference you have always dreamed of attending? Maybe you can’t afford to go or can’t get away from work without taking vacation days. Conference organizers have discovered that not everyone wants to sit in a conference hall during sessions and keynotes all day. Some events offer lounge-type areas with beanbags and comfy couches to watch live-stream broadcasts on large-screen TVs.

It takes a lot of resources to put on a live event and conference organizers are maximizing those resources with live streaming so interested followers can follow along, whether they are next door, in their hotel room or halfway across the country. Also, as virtual reality technology matures, soon you will be able to experience the conference of your choice from your desktop or iPhone.

In addition to the official event broadcasts, make sure to look for live Twitter feeds or Facebook Live broadcasts from attendees. You don’t have to be in attendance to be part of a trade show anymore and event attendees will almost always provide an alternate slant to an event.

John Mark is always covering the big shows on Twitter. Follow us at @globalknowledge.


Finally, it should go without saying, but it never hurts to have a reminder about:

Personal accountability and trade shows

Know the trade show’s cancellation policy – Life happens. Sometimes you have to cancel. It’s not fair to blame the trade show when they make their policies available before you purchase.

Don’t get arrested – Good luck explaining that to your boss—excuse me—probably soon-to-be former boss. What you might be able to get away with in your hometown may not fly in another city. Plus, who wants to travel back to the city you were finger printed in for court?

Company clothing – When you wear your company’s attire, you’re a representative of the company. You never know who’s watching and if you’re acting inappropriately, may report you back to your organization. When in doubt, only wear your company shirt during the trade show and change when you go out for the evening.

Mornings come faster than you think – Having a good time goes hand in hand with trade shows, but you can’t maximize your experience if you’re hung over or in jail (see “Don’t get arrested”).


We want to hear from you. Tag us on social and share your trade show tips.

Written by Zane Schweer, Global Knowledge


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