Attending Industry and Association Trade Shows

To keep your design and manufacturing personnel up-to-date, energized, and connected, don’t miss the opportunity to proactively attend industry shows and exhibitions.


Every two years, the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) is held during the month of September in Chicago. It is one of the world’s largest trade shows and assemblies for new technologies. The 2014 show reported over 2,000 exhibitors from 112 countries covering 1.25 million square feet with over 110,000 registrations. This year’s 2016 show is co-located with five other groups — Industrial Automation North America; Motion, Drive & Automation North America; Surface Technology North America; ComVac North America; and Industrial Supply North America — further enhancing the learning opportunities.

For the show, much information is distributed about the exhibitors, who should attend, the industries covered, emerging technologies, and more. However, what might be missed is the perspective from a business owner, executive, or departmental manager on how to maximize the return from having your technical personnel attend.

If your approach is casual and your employees attend without a specific purpose, the odds are that you will miss a great opportunity. It is common practice for some attendees to seek out narrow topics of immediate interest, which are usually driven by specific projects or challenges at the organization. Being this focused, they may walk right past an innovation or technology that could propel your company. Without a thorough plan and specific assignments, you may compromise your return.

Trade show strategies can vary greatly depending on whether you are attending or exhibiting. Here is a suggested approach that may help maximize your return when attending IMTS or any other show.

  • Develop a budget to cover any costs and lost time for attending personnel. This will help you determine how many can attend. If essential resources will be out of the office, be sure their absence can be covered. Consider who should attend, who has the most to learn, and what immediate issues are vital to the organization. If your customers are exhibiting, consider having the assigned account person attend.
  • Research the theme of the show, what will be exhibited, the key exhibitors, and the technologies represented. Look for what may best match your current business regarding gearing, processing, technical, or operations, and explore the new technologies you may require for any changing strategic initiatives.
  • Typically, there are numerous educational events and seminars, so be sure to take advantage of these. With the accelerating interest in topics such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), emerging technologies, global automation, additive manufacturing, integrating 3D printing into production, and more, it is essential for your organization to stay informed.
  • When possible, create teams with mixed disciplines and generational backgrounds to create a more synergetic outcome with different perspectives. Several people may look at the same thing but see totally different possibilities.
  • Use the planning tools available from the show’s facilitator. These tools are extremely easy to use, interactive, and greatly enhance your productivity, especially when covering large shows like IMTS.
  • Have your attendees identify what they would like to get out of the show and what they are going to investigate. Combine both individual and corporate interests, recognize any gaps, and be sure to close them by assigning coverage. From the combined list of interests, assign specific tasks and responsibilities to attendees. Encourage them to:
    • Study the floor plan layout. Similar technologies and related industries are usually located together.
    • Plan a predetermined route through the show, hitting points of interest along the way. This will help reduce time spent walking back and forth and missing any stops.
    • Look for future business opportunities in both similar and different industries and product types.
    • Visit both your customers’ and competitors’ booths.
    • Capture the contact information of those they meet, and be sure your employees have up-to-date business cards.
    • Collect any supporting documentation, brochures, equipment specifications, and other handouts.
    • Take pictures and videos.
    • Check off their assignments to ensure no tasks are missed.
    • Establish specific follow-up dates for any commitments.
  • Immediately after the show when experiences are still fresh, schedule meetings with all attendees and provide a forum for them to share what they learned with their peers.


IMTS and shows like it are a great place for gear designers and manufacturing engineers — young and experienced — to network, find solutions, and get excited about new technologies. It can easily serve as an element of your training program and can be valued as a perk, so be sure to stagger who attends. In order to maximize the benefits, you should develop a plan, identify desired takeaways, and make assignments. Always schedule a wrap-up meeting, and encourage all attendees to share their experiences and set follow-up appointments. These activities will help you stay on top of the latest technology and keep your business current.

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is the president of Mondek Solutions, a consulting business committed to driving the success of manufacturers through common-sense implementation of multi-disciplined best practices and problem resolution. He has over 38 years of experience in P&L, executive level leadership, operational effectiveness, quality, and product design. For more information, contact Mondek at or 815-382-1987, and visit