Baltimore CES attendees offer their tips on navigating big trade shows

Some key themes: Plan ahead, figure out who you want to connect with and set your own meetings outside the conference events.

Inside CES. (Courtesy photo)

The tech world is descending on Las Vegas this week for the annual CES trade show, and Baltimore technologists are among the throngs.

The Consumer Electronics Show runs through Jan. 12. It’s a massive gathering that gives technologists a chance to show off new products for the year ahead, as well as the *future*.

Alongside all the gadgets, Google announcements and Chef Bot, the technology that is shaping health is taking up more mindshare at the big event. That’s where b.well Connected Health has a booth, giving the University of Maryland GRID-based company founded by Kristen Valdes a chance to share insights about its health management platform.

Out roaming the floor, there are some attendees from Baltimore who know their way around CES. So we asked a few about tips for attending a big trade show, since this is just the first one of a packed calendar for 2020.

John Rainey recently joined Locust Point-based innovation agency Mindgrub as engagement director, but he’s got plenty of experience at CES. Entering his eighth show, he said the biggest thing he’s learned is the importance of planning.

“CES provides a great website with a list of exhibitors list, and most of the trade show floor (3 million square feet) is segmented by industry,” he said. “Plan ahead, find what is important to you and generate a list prior to visiting those exhibitors. It’s impossible to see it all in four days so target what is important to you and use the CES app to navigate as needed.”

Plenty of conferences have digital resources where similar tips could be applied. Since most people head to a conference to make business connections, Mindgrub Chief Business Officer Vincent Sharps adds that planning can include mapping out where cold prospects are on the trade show floor.

“Set up meetings with your clients and leads ahead of time for maximum ROI, and where it makes sense, schedule group meetings. Connecting people in your network can lead to additional opportunities,” he said.

Rainey adds that despite the chaos, it is helpful to set those meetings in a unique environment like CES. Folks tend to remember a face-to-face meeting at a conference more clearly than a conference call.

With so many people, there are enough chances to set meetings that a company may want to consider setting up these meetings rather than getting a booth, said Will Gee, CEO of Port Covington-based virtual and augmented reality studio Balti Virtual.

“The best tip I’ve heard is to set a lot of targeted meetings rather than spend a ton of time, money and energy on a booth,” Gee said. “I think the biggest value for companies outside of major tech hubs is that shows like CES provide an opportunity to meet with clients and partners from all over the world (without having to fly all over the world).”

Pre-show planning is also essential for Severna Park-based Accella, an agency that designs and develops websites and mobile apps. CEO Jason King said the team make it a point to connect with clients and partners at CES, as well as prospective clients. They also take a focused approach when it comes to what conference events they’re planning to check out.

“There is so much at CES, you can’t see it all,” he said. “We have a focus on digital health and connected home, so we spend the majority of our time in those areas of the show.”

It might make sense to look at it as a multi-year endeavor, too.

“With a big show like CES, the first time attending is a bit of a learning experience and it isn’t until the second year that you’ve got your bearings on what you can really get out of a show like this,” he said.

Companies: Accella / Mindgrub / Balti Virtual

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