Trade Shows: What I’ve Learned

I’ve worked a handful of trade shows since 2011. I don’t road-dog it at all of them like a lot of journalists do, but I end up at big ones: CES three times, Photokina last year, and right now, IFA.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Young journalists have universally horrific posture. Old journalists have weird back shapes.

At any given time, fewer than two percent of journalists in the press room are ever smiling. At the first two and a half shows I worked, I tried to look nonchalant, focused but not flustered, and generally like I have something important to do. In the two and a half shows since then, I’ve forgotten to try. Now I probably actually look nonchalant and focused.

Of course, it’s up to somebody else to decide if my coverage is important. Luckily, the site I work for has been granted some fantastic access so far this week. Part of it comes from us being one of the few places in the US to really cover appliances in great depth. The other is that our whole crew is learning to be really persistent. I’ll try to remember to appreciate this conference the next time that I holler about getting denied an early look. Hopefully the readers appreciate what we’ve been able to report already.

Always get the press kit. The other night, at the Galaxy Gear and Nexus 3 announcement gala, Samsung appeared to be handing out press kits, so naturally I grabbed one. Inside, I found a 64GB microSD card, but no press kit. One of my colleagues on our video squad immediately regretted his decision to not grab one. I reassured him that I’d inevitably lend it to him and forget about it. Addendum: Always get the press kit, unless it’s on a CD.

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Travelers and guests enjoy much better accommodations in Europe (or maybe just in Germany, I don’t know). At Photokina and IFA, we’ve had full-service cafes in the press rooms. At CES, every tech writer from Tokyo to Toronto to Torino scrambles like a fucking animal to get a boxed lunch with a mayonnaise packet and a small apple. At least it’s free?

Go to ShowStoppers. You might find a good story about a scrappy underdog company that makes weatherproof hard-drive cases or something. You probably won’t. But you will definitely get free food and drinks.

Adrenaline will carry you through about three days of poor sleep and bad food. Then you get cranky and do sloppy work.

Press conferences are a necessary evil. Great info, good access, awful corporate jack-hoffing. But sometimes there are trapeze artists.

Hang out with your coworkers on these trips. You’ll learn more about them in one week on the road than you will in one year at the office. It’s a great bonding experience.

Talk to a lot of people, particularly fellow journalists. Maybe it’s because I live in Boston, but I often feel disconnected from the tech industry at large, including all the writers in New York and San Francisco. These shows are a great opportunity to meet like-minded pros.

Drink plenty of liquids, including but not limited to water, coffee, and alcohol. Soda is junk. Bubbly water is divine.

General cultural rules apply: Try speaking the native language, respect customs, don’t be loud on the subway, apparently the Northeastern US is the only place where it’s OK to jaywalk, etc. etc.

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