Today’s guest post comes to you from trade show expert Tim Patterson, Founder of Communication One Exhibits

Today’s digital world gives us dozens of ways to interact with other people, from Twitter chats, Facebook, and LinkedIn Groups to membership sites and Google Hangouts. In this world of instant connection, you might be wondering, are trade shows worth it?

There’s been some talk lately about how trade shows are becoming less relevant, and how these days, people are even conducting virtual trade shows in an online environment.

Well I may be biased, but I’d sincerely say that yes, trade shows are still worth the investment (check out this ROI calculator to determine which trade shows to attend in order to get the biggest bang for your buck). Putting a face to a voice and name offers much more than just a digital imprint. It gives you something frankly old-fashioned: a handshake, a smile, and the nuance of a warm greeting and the building of a good solid relationship.

It’s why people still travel thousand of miles across the country or even abroad to sit down with someone face-to-face when they could have sent an email. Attending a well-planned and tightly executed event, whether it’s a large national trade show with tens of thousands of attendees or a small regional conference with only a few hundred folks gives you something much more tangible than an email thread.

It’s where business happens, but beyond that, it’s where trust really starts and where relationships build. It’s where you have the opportunity to find out that Melissa from Minnesota loves water-skiing, and where you discover that Tom from California loves vintage race cars. When the conference hours are over and the casual connections take place, you can learn what makes Dave tick, and what makes Michelle laugh. You probably wouldn’t find out those things on a webinar or Twitter chat.

Exhibiting at a trade show is a valuable thing, but don’t forget that you’re there to MEET people. Real, live human beings. And that those people are just like you: they have goals, desires, pains, problems and hidden challenges.

Do the important stuff in your booth: qualify and disqualify the attendees as they come through, generate and track leads, do surveys, connect with distributors, and show off products. But don’t forget the people behind those titles and company names. That’s the real connection. That’s the real reason you’re there.

Trade show “networking” may not sound all that appealing, and it’s easy to simply put in your time at each show by showing up when you’re scheduled before calling it a night. But if you’re going to make that three or four days at a trade show worthwhile – really worthwhile – take this rare opportunity to actually spend time with and get to know people that you may end up doing business with.

You may make an initial connection in your trade show booth or in the hall where the discussion panel takes place, but with an open mind you can find opportunities to connect after the hall closes. There’s dinner and drinks, there are evening gatherings and morning coffee or breakfast. Take them all in. Sleep 4 to 6 hours, and get up and tackle the day.

So to again answer the question of whether or not trade shows are worth it, my answer is still yes, but also that you’ll only take out what you put in. Remember, you can always sleep on the plane home, right?

What do you think about trade shows in the digital age? Are they worth it? Why or why not? Let the debate commence!

Author Biography:

Tim Patterson is a trade show strategist, blogger and Founder of Communication One Exhibits. Tim’s happy to talk about trade shows all day if you let him. Give him a call at 503-507-4110, or read his blog and subscribe to his newsletter at http://TradeshowGuyBlog.com. You can also find Tim on Twitter @tradeshowguy.