Whether you’re heading to Dreamforce next week or visiting a local Chamber of Commerce expo, you’ll get a ton more value if you have a game plan going in. Below are several tips for working your next trade show floor as an attendee.

Know your objectives going in
What are you there for? Knowing your objectives will help narrow where and how you spend your time. Are you looking for partnership opportunities? Trying to get better and smarter about a particular function or business application? Are you tasked with bringing back insights and best practices to others back at the office? Set some objectives up front, and customize your approach accordingly.

Highlight booths or vendors you know you need to meet
Review the exhibitor list and prioritize vendors you know you need to spend time with. Consider setting appointments with them in advance to get more of their time and attention. If you’re attending as a representative of your organization, consider sending the list of exhibitors around to your team and asking them to also highlight vendors they’d like you to engage with on their behalf.

Consider printing biz cards with a different email address to use on the show floor
This works for your event registration too, as many trade shows use “badge scanners” for exhibitors to capture your contact information for follow-up. There’s a ton of value in developing ongoing relationships with vendors and exhibitors relevant to your work, but you also don’t want your primary email address flooded with spam. If you create your registration and a short stack of business cards with a slightly different email address that redirects back to you (i.e. mattheinz@heinzmarketing.com instead of matt@heinzmarketing.com), you’ll still get the information but can redirect everything into a separate folder with Email Rules for reading later.

Do a quick first lap & take notes
When I first visit a new trade show floor, I like to do a quick lap around everything – scanning booths, getting a sense for who has something interesting, and taking notes of which booths I particularly want to come back to. At any show, there will be new vendors you didn’t know before, or “old” vendors who do a particularly good job at educating and engaging their audience. For example, perhaps an exhibitor you previously hadn’t highlighted is running a series of training events at their booth. Better to know their schedule and when you need to be back there early on, vs. missing something important because you hadn’t checked it out first.

Don’t be afraid to politely say no
Exhibitors often train their booth staff to actively engage those walking by. If you’re interested and ready, stop. But manage your time wisely, and don’t be afraid to say no and keep walking. Be polite and smile. The same goes for the middle of a conversation that may have turned into an unwanted (or too early) sales pitch.

Think twice about taking the giveaways
Do you really want it? Do you really need it? Will you really use it when you get back home? It is worth lugging around for the rest of the day or stuffing into your carry-on luggage in a couple days? If you’re just going to throw it away or leave it in your hotel room later, you’re wasting the vendor’s money too.

Ask for “soft copies” of the sales collateral
Having a PDF to read later might be much easier (for both attendee and vendor) than lugging around a bunch of brochures.

But take copies of the value-added content
Many booths will have great, educational content that I believe is very much worth taking with you. Copies of white papers and research reports, books written by subject matter experts and more. Great materials to read on the flight back and share with the team when you get back to the office.

Visit your priority booths during a “lull” to get more attention
If you only spend time on the show floor during the “rush” times (between general sessions or during programmed breaks), the popular booths will be flooded and you won’t get the time you need from booth staffers. Instead, plan to come back when you can afford to miss something on the conference agenda. The booths will be far less busy, and staffers will have more time to dedicate specifically to your questions.

Look for the subject matter experts, and ask questions that will help you learn
Many booth staffers will be sales reps, and you can learn a ton from the really good ones. But if you’re done your homework, you can seek out the real thought leaders and subject matter experts from each vendor. Do your homework in advance and find out who at each company is writing their blog posts, who is featured in their white papers, and who is quoted most often in their press releases. Ask for those people when you visit the booth, or set up time with them in advance.