Trade shows, conferences and similar events are a must for translators and business writers who want to stay abreast of the latest happenings in their industries. What’s more: these are a great place to make contacts and meet new potential clients. Here are my top ten trade fair essentials to help you get the most out of your trip.

1. A big, smart bag

You’ll need a bag that is big enough to hold everything you need, but smart enough to still make a good impression. The exact bag you choose will depend on your gender, height, style, ethics and budget. I have two.

My first bag is a massive weekender bag for events when I know I’ll be picking up a lot of papers or have to bring along my own (vegan) lunch. The other is a much smaller, smarter bag that still has room for A4 documents. I’m no stylist, but I’d recommend black as a safe style bet for most business situations.

My choices were both by Matt and Nat, a fantastic, environmentally friendly, vegan designer from Canada:

I’m currently considering getting this smart backpack, also by Matt and Nat. I just need to find an appropriate excuse. If you can think of a great excuse, please add it in the comments!

Guys can probably get away with a standard laptop bag or laptop backpack. Fashion seems to dictate that women cannot wear backpacks in professional settings. I hate the reality, but I accept the reality. And perhaps this is a good excuse to push the boundaries with that smart backpack…?

2. Appropriate clothes

“Smart” is rather subjective, and what might be “smart” in one situation may be completely off in another. With this in mind, my advice is “appropriate”. As a woman, you cannot go too far wrong with a smart blazer and an appropriate dress or blouse/skirt combination. For guys, the suit jacket and shirt seems almost obligatory, although this will depend on the event.

Be careful not to overdress or underdress:
Overly fashionable women will get confused stares at a male-dominated IT-industry event (society has not progressed far enough to realise that beauty does not preclude brains). Similarly, as one new friend learned, it’s probably best to wear a shirt and tie if Mr Cameron and his entourage will be coming around and inviting you to a sit-down discussion (society also hasn’t progressed far enough to realise that comfortable clothing does not preclude successful enterprise).

My tip: Take a look at images and videos from previous years and dress to match.

3. Plenty of business cards (optional: print materials about your business)

This is the most obvious essential for any day out where you’ll be meeting new people, or even trip out the house. But you’ll be surprised by how many people there are who do not pack enough! Consider different ones for different sorts of contacts or people in different industries. Bonus tip: print materials are another great option if you want to present your business that way.

4. Smartphone with internet (optional: a tablet)

Again, the smartphone with internet is a basic essential. Regardless of how you arrange it – roaming or free wi-fi at the event – it’s important to stay connected while you’re out of the office. You want to still be there for your existing customers. A phone with a good screen or a tablet is also great if you want to look anything up – like a potential client’s website, the event’s web page or app, the location plan, or local travel connections.

If the event is not in your home country, you have a couple of options:

  • See if internet is available at the event for free or a reasonable charge
  • Set up roaming on your current contract
  • Get a pay-as-you-go SIM with a reasonably priced internet add-on
    • If you’re travelling to my home country, the UK, I have a little tip: try giffgaff. The sim card is free (sent to a UK address – a hotel or friend may be willing), and their cheapest viable internet option is just £7.50. I tend to go for the unlimited internet and unlimited texts with 250 UK minutes for a meagre £12. Just £12 and I am sorted with free, fast internet on my mobile for the next 30 days! No additional contracts – it just turns into a normal pay-as-you-go contract when the 30 days are up. Use this link to get £5 free credit.
    • I don’t actually know of anything as good as giffgaff for other countries. If you happen to have any such tips, please share them in the comments.
  • You may want to consider a tablet in additional to your smartphone to make browsing and using the event’s app a bit easier. If you own more than one tablet, you can also work out which you want to bring based on similar criteria. Of course, security may be another aspect to consider: you won’t want to bring your most valuable devices if there is a considerable risk of loss.

5. External batteries (optional, if required: power adaptors)

These are bigger batteries that can be used to charge your portable devices. There are a few options. Personally, I have these:

  • Anker Astro Mini 3000mAh External Battery This is a smallish 3000mAh battery which will charge an average smartphone at least once. I take this on smaller events, or if I’m heading out for the day but forgot to charge my phone the night before. This is usually fine for light use.
  • Anker Astro E5 15000mAh External Battery This is a much bigger 15000mAh battery which will charge an average smartphone at least seven or eight times. What’s more – it can charge any tablets with a 5V charge input. For me, this means I can use it with my iPad Air. I tend to take this to any conference because I know I’ll be online during the speeches and breaks. I usually take this to trade fairs, too, although sometimes I’ll take its little sister.
  • I don’t personally own one, but you may also want to look into case-like battery packs that can be slipped around your phone to protect it while extending the battery life. Similarly, there are ones which can be attached to the bottom like an extension plug, or integrated into the smartphone design itself by replacing the manufacturer’s battery and case. It all depends on the smartphone you have, the sort of battery life you need, and your personal preference.

6. Pen and paper (old school!)

It sounds so old-fashioned, but you never know who you will meet, or what notes you will want to take. You may get into a discussion with a new client and want to demonstrate some ideas on paper, or give them some notes to take home. If you feel like it, branded paper (or even a branded pen) is a great idea here. But that is a nice extra. The key thing is to pack a small pad of paper and a pen to take notes.

7. Your portable computer (laptop/notebook, ultrabook or netbook)

You will need one of the above for the evenings. It does not really matter which of the above it is, just as long as this is a computer you can comfortably work on for a long stretch. As I said before – your existing customers may need you, or you may need to do some heavy research. You never know…

The main reason I say to bring your portable computer is that using a mobile phone, tablet, or tablet with keyboard is unlikely to be comfortable for anything more substantial. You need to have access to something approaching your standard tools if you are away from your office for any length of time.

8. Snacks

This may not be a must for you, especially if this is a catered event. However, a little pick-me-up can work wonders if you get a bit peckish. Food sold at events is not always the best quality and is unlikely to suit all dietary needs. I like to pack some fruit and nut bars (Nakd bars are a nice option!) to keep me going, as well as some chocolate to reward myself for getting through the day (or meeting a nice new lead!).

Do avoid eating anything that is likely to spill on your clothes or leave you with sauce all over your face. It’s not a good look (I should know…). If you MUST eat something more substantial, consider taking a little mirror and napkin to clean yourself up before anyone notices the spinach on your teeth or curry sauce on your sleeve.

9. Water

Events may give away or sell water, but there is a mentality switch if you have your own water with you. It’s easy to end up dehydrated in these dry environments, full of lights and gadgets, especially if you’re chatting all day.

I take my own Bobble water bottle with me wherever I go. It has a carbon filter, meaning I can fill up my water bottle anywhere without any major concerns. I find this a lot more convenient than going through a number of bottles throughout the day. More environmentally friendly and an unconventional conversation-starter, too! (I was accused of drinking out of a baby’s bottle last week at CeBIT…)

On the other hand: remember that the café or bar can also be a great place to connect with new and interesting people.

10. A business card reader app

Unless you’ve tried one of these out, you won’t realise why they are so essential. If you have, you’ll totally agree and can just skip this section.

I recommend getting a business card reader app for your tablet rather than your smartphone if you can, because although the smartphone is with you everywhere, the tablet has a bigger screen and is therefore a little easier to use and organise your contacts.

I use CamCard HD on my iPad Air and I believe there are similar apps for Android devices. It works like this: you create a folder for the event you are at, the date, or whatever other criteria suits you. You then add a card by scanning it. The app will then read the card as well as it can, filling in data to the appropriate fields. You then correct this, and add any other notes as you wish, perhaps scanning the reverse of the card, too, or even taking a quick picture of your new contact’s face! Then, once that is all saved, you can access the details at any time via the app. It will also synchronise with other online contact lists.

How is this useful? Well, say you meet someone interesting, and think this person should link up with another person you met a few months ago. All you need to do is email one person’s card and all the scanned details to the other, or share these details in a QR code which the new contact can scan on their own device. You can do it right there and then! The networker’s dream: all your contacts with you wherever you go. And you never need to worry about losing a business card again!

A cautionary note:

Trade shows and conferences are hectic, busy places. I’ve listed a few valuable items above. Even if you trust the people there, remember it only takes one less-than-honest individual to ruin everyone’s experience. Don’t take more with you than you ultimately need and can keep a close eye on.

I hope my top ten list helped you. Did I miss anything? Please let me know in the comments!