Movin’ on Up: Ten Tips to Help You Advance Your Trade Show Career


Which side are you on? Client? Supplier? Show management? Our industry is exciting and feeds on innovation and talent. I can personally attest that these ten tips worked for me in advancing my career. For example, I was the first person in my company to achieve the CTSM designation; I became a speaker at several industry conferences. Yes, it was a lot of work—and scary at times—but getting over my own resistance has paid off for me. Here are the top ten things I would recommend to anyone who wants recognition for their work leading to bigger and better things—like a promotion:

  1. Get a mentor. How do you get a mentor? There are a few ways. You might want to sign up for a mentor program in an industry organization. You can approach someone in your company to help you advance your career and contribute to the company culture—someone who is amenable to taking you on. Or consider looking outside your industry and your company for a mentor who inspires you or gives you confidence—or helps you benchmark your work against other companies. Getting a mentor is a bold step—but it sets your course for success.
  2. Be proactive, not reactive. Make things happen—don’t wait for them to happen TO you. You might not get it right every time but develop the habit of speaking up and suggesting new ideas. Reactive people tend to look at something after it has happened and regret not initiating a conversation.
  3. Go to meetings—both internal and external—and be prepared to participate. Offer insights and ideas. Be polite and listen to what others are saying. If you don’t agree, don’t get defensive—or worse, hostile. Try using the improv technique of saying, “yes….and” to shift the conversation to your viewpoint without confrontation. On the other hand, particularly if you are a woman, many recent studies have shown that men tend to “talk over” women. Don’t be afraid to say, “Excuse me, but I wasn’t finished.” It’s a new day.
  4. Explore speaking opportunities. Get yourself in the spotlight. Look for opportunities related to your industry or that showcase your knowledge of a subject. There are industry-specific platforms such as Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association (HCEA), Corporate Event Managers Association (CEMA), ExhibitorLive, or for those working in the healthcare meetings sector, Pharma Forum. All these meetings are looking for speakers for their programs. Consider local opportunities—anything from the Chamber of Commerce to colleges and universities in your area. Make sure your company—and the industry—knows that you are speaking. Afraid of standing up in front of a crowd? Join a Toastmasters group and get over your fear.
  5. Get smarter! Any of the conferences mentioned above have education tracks. If you notice a speaker has an interesting podcast available or is perhaps giving a presentation that you can attend, make a point of accessing the content either online or in person. Cut into your personal social media time and read about what is going on in your industry and in the broader field of event marketing. Subscribe to some newsletters; make sure that you check the “once a week” box so you aren’t overwhelmed.
  6. Earn a certification in your field. Exhibitor offers the CTSM—Certified Trade Show Manager—and the Events Industry Council (EIC) the CMP—Certified Meeting Professional. Research has shown that those holding certifications earn more, and at the very least, they help edge out the competition when you are applying for a job.
  7. Join a local chapter of a national organization. American Marketing Association, Business Marketing Association, any group that will allow you to network and add to your knowledge base. Alternatively, get involved in charitable and philanthropic groups; you will meet people on an entirely different plane, and working with a diverse group of people can be rewarding both personally and professionally.
  8. Ask (politely) for a recommendation when you finish a project or receive recognition for your accomplishments. The recommendation can appear on LinkedIn or in the form of an email or letter. Keep in touch with partners on specific projects. Much of the way we work today can be compared to making a movie: a dedicated group comes together to produce something excellent and then disperses. Stay connected with the people you meet on a project—and ask them if they would be willing to provide references for you in the future.
  9. Get active on social media. Yes, you do have time. Wait: you probably have time for personal social media. Reapportion some of that time to elevate your professional image. Most social marketers agree that LinkedIn provides the best platform for this, but don’t neglect Facebook. Sharing articles and insights relevant to your industry is important if you want to get noticed in the wider business community. Post a good profile picture–not one where you cut out another person’s face, or a selfie, certainly not a party photo. And speaking of Facebook: monitor tags and be judicious in what you post. Enough said.
  10. Take credit for your work. When you receive a compliment on a job well done, say “thank you”—yes, you have a whole team behind you, but you are the team leader. Don’t denigrate your work or downplay your role, particularly if the compliment is coming from senior management. If your work isn’t acknowledged, prepare a report—bullets not paragraphs—showing how the corporate investment in the event generated positive results for the company. Then make sure the right people see the report.

Believe it or not, these steps don’t take that much time; they do take commitment. Stop stressing about your career, and take charge of it!

PS: Speaking of ExhibitorLive, click here for some great offers which are a result of our partnership with them.

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