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Trade Show Takeaways: Applying What You’ve Learned Back Home


Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

It’s trade show season, and we all know what that means: an overwhelming amount of education coming your away. It’s a good thing to learn, but your learning may be kept to a minimum unless you have a game plan in place.

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Attending trade shows over the last 11 years has taught me a thing or two about how to take what you’ve learned and apply it at home. So here’s my advice on how to accomplish this.

If you’re going to attend a trade show, clearly you’re going to make a significant investment in getting you and possibly others from your shop there. With the money you’ll spend on airfare, hotel and registration fees, doesn’t it make sense to have a game plan prior to arriving? That way, you can maximize your time in a potentially hectic, overwhelming and confusing environment where lots of different things are going to be vying for your attention.


NACE and SEMA both have their schedules online well in advance of the shows, so Step 1 should be to highlight those sessions that seem most interesting to you. Note the dates, times and locations and make sure to make them a priority on your schedule.

Okay, so now you’re at the educational session. You’re in a large room with lots of other people, and they’re all after the same information you’re after. You feel like you’re back in school again and try to remember how you used to take notes.


Step 2 is investing in a nice handheld audio recorder to make sure you don’t miss a word of what the speaker says. Don’t count on being able to hand write notes or tap them into your laptop – you’ll miss something. Also, remember some speakers are willing to e-mail you their PowerPoint presentations. Some may even hand out thumb drives containing the PowerPoints. But keep in mind the PowerPoint won’t have everything the speaker said, so recording everything might still be a good idea. Remember, too, you can also usually buy the recording from the show you’re at.


Now comes my own personal “48 hour rule.” They say that homicide detectives’ chance of solving a case is cut in half if they don’t get a lead within the first 48 hours of when the crime was committed. The same goes for those hoping to get something out of trade show education, too – if you don’t do something or get something started with what you’ve learned within 48 hours of arriving home, you can pretty much kiss it goodbye.

Step 3 is to hand off the recording to your office manager to transcribe when you get home. Before all office managers get mad at me, okay, maybe you can do it yourself! But again, you’ll probably keep putting it off until lean concepts or managing your finances are a distant memory.


Once you have a transcript, Step 4 is for you to pick out the bullet points and create your own PowerPoint for training purposes. Anyone who has put together a PowerPoint knows how easy it is – the software pretty much walks you through it. You can even go old school and create handouts instead of a PowerPoint – the important thing is that you do something.

Step 5 is to get the training session you’ve just created scheduled into your company calendar. Only when it becomes an actual item in your calendar will it gain a sense of reality and urgency. It will also create the impression on your employees that trade shows aren’t play time but serious business where things can be learned and applied to advance your business.


If nothing else…remember the first 48. The most important thing is to act quickly when you get home. Here’s to a better business for it!

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