4 Tips for Surviving Trade Shows as an Introvert

I’ve found doing trade shows to be a necessary evil for growing Po Campo wholesale accounts. You get great exposure and there’s good potential for sales, yet they are expensive, time-consuming and exhausting – especially for introverts.

A key defining characteristic of introverts is that we refuel with alone time, whereas extroverts refuel by being around people. That means that the lucky extroverts get more and more energy as the day at a trade show wears on, while us unfortunate introverts are stumbling across the finish line by the time the show wraps.

Last week Po Campo was at its 10th trade show, the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. With each show that we do, I hone my strategies for the best ways to survive them and get the most out of them. Here are my four tips for how to survive a trade show as an introvert:

1) Skip unnecessary social events (and don’t feel bad about it). People will tell you over and over that at the after show parties is where the real business gets done. Regardless, I know I am physically unable to work a 9 hour show and follow that up with mingling and drinking with strangers for another six hours, especially if I have to be back at the booth the following day at 9am at full strength. So I skip the parties. The difference this time around was that I didn’t feel bad about it. You have to know your limitations and respect them.
Side note: Often the industry parties right after the show have free food and drinks. If you’re like me and always looking to save a dime, go to the party just long enough to get a free dinner and then head out.

2) Plan your alone time to let yourself refuel. I used to think I could just muscle through a trade show, but inevitably I would run out of energy and ask a neighbor to watch my booth while I sat in a bathroom stall for 15 minutes to recharge. That’s no fun, so this time around, I planned ahead. I got up early to have a few hours of “Maria time” before showing up at the booth at 9am, enabling me to start the day fully charged and ready for action. I scheduled friends or sales reps to relieve me for 90 minutes every day at some point for a break. After the show, I would have dinner with a friend or go shopping for an hour or two before returning back home by 9pm to read or watch TV. Knowing when my escapes were helped me endure the longer stretches and be at my best for longer amounts of time.

3) Don’t talk to everyone. The common wisdom is that you should enthusiastically greet everyone that walks by and invite them into your booth to check out your wares. If you don’t act like this, people will tell you that you should. That’s simply not me, though, and nothing tires me out more than that kind of behavior. Instead, I smile at everyone I make eye contact with and if their eyes linger on my merchandise, I will jump into the pitch. If not, I don’t say anything. My reasoning is that I want to give the best version of myself to the people most likely to become customers and if I’m worn out from chatting with every person that walks by, that won’t happen.

4) Team up with an extrovert. Having an extrovert in the booth will relieve you of a ton of pressure to talk to people. Many extroverts actually like working at these types of events so finding a volunteer is pretty easy; I just post something on Facebook and offer a free bag in exchange for her time. However, be warned that if the show is slow, the extrovert will just talk to you instead, exposing you to the same small talk that you had hoped to escape. To play it safe, I usually only have my extrovert in the booth during the busy hours and then dismiss her when it quiets down, saying “I got it from here”. The busy times at trade shows seem to be between 10am – 3pm, although each show has its own rhythms.

If you’re an introvert, I would love to hear your strategies for surviving (and thriving) during trade shows. As Po Campo grows, I foresee more and more of them in the future, and there’s nothing I’d like more than looking forward to them rather than dreading them.

2 thoughts on “4 Tips for Surviving Trade Shows as an Introvert

  1. I found your site as I’m actually at the Winter Market now, as a buyer, and it is hard to go through. I second having a wingman/wingwomen, as a seller or a buyer. I am actually probably going to pay a friend to come with me next time to open discussions and feel people out. We are online retailers so there are understandably many discussions that fizzle out at that point, which makes the effort of beginning those conversations again hard as an introvert.

    Time off has helped, knowing when I’m hungry or tired or that it’s okay to leave if I’ve put in the right amount of work helps. Having a plan for what you will say is helpful (I prefer just having a few things to say as openers). Knowing what your purpose for being there is good too. Great article, thank you.

    And that’s not my picture in the comment, don’t know how it appeared.

    1. I never considered how hard trade shows must be for the introvert buyers out there! I like your comment about knowing when you’ve done enough work for the day and then calling it quits. As entrepreneurs/small business owners, I think we have a hard time not giving it our all, but you definitely reach the point of diminishing returns, and then it’s best to stop and recharge. Thanks for sharing.

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