Trade shows are rife with opportunities for gathering competitive intelligence. To gather the most CI, adopt a military mindset.
• Eavesdrop at the breakfast buffet; nurse a cup of coffee and listen!
• Pay attention on the elevator: you just might overhear sensitive discussions that begin on the show's floor and continue into the elevator. (Or the lobby or restroom, for that matter.)
• Listen closely in the bar: an educated eavesdropper can pick up useful tidbits when conventioneers let loose at the bar during the evening. Hone your people skills and initiate conversations while you sip on a single beverage.
• Volunteer to join the conference organizing committee: your volunteer work will not only bolster your own reputation in the industry but will give you access to all sorts of information.
• Work the break area: although professional on the show floor, exhibitor personnel love to vent while on break. Many shows have an exhibitors’ lounge where you’ll find competitors’ staff looking for someone to commiserate with them.
Protect your command center: guard your own intelligence. Caution your booth staff about mobile phone conversations, so easily overheard, as well as talking about the company in all the places listed above. Splurge on a suite or other private meeting place so that you can meet with clients and colleagues in a location that's off limit to competitors. Have your debrief sessions there, too, and shred the trash on your way out.