Trade shows can be one of the most effective tools for relationship building and information gathering in the business world today. However, given the travel often required, crowds and staggering array of choice they can often be overwhelming. Before you know it the show is coming to an end. While you may be delighted with some of your finds, there’s often the feeling that something got missed.

Fear not. Here are some simple suggestions to maximize your experience and leave you with the confidence that you conquered all that you set out to do.

(1) DEFINE YOUR GOAL. Have a clear goal and know what you’d like to get accomplished. Are you looking for products, connections or industry trends? All three? What matters most? By making sure your goals and expectations are clearly laid out, you can maximize time and efficiency when making the rounds at the show.

(2) FORM AN ATTACK PLAN. Review all attendee materials and if an exhibitor map is not included, reach out to the organizing committee and they’ll likely share one as they have created it for booth tenants. This will help guide you in your quest to cover the floor. It’s also a great idea to build a relationship with the organizers as you may find that they could use you as a panelist or make introductions to people you’d like to meet.

(3) REACH OUT TO VENDORS AND PROSPECTS.

Set a series of mini-meetings, in advance, at defined times. Hotel lobbies or bars can serve you well as a place to take up residence. You can always rent a suite but if you’re not right next to the conference that could affect your success. Properly planned mini-meetings allow you to quickly develop the bonds that you may need and stand out from the clutter of “business as usual” when you re-engage these people in the months to come.

(4) PLAN COCKTAILS AND DINNERS. Work around the scheduled events. Quite often the rubber chicken, industry wide dinner fails to satisfy the attendees. If the industry dinner is at 6:30 p.m., get a great table at a popular restaurant at 8 p.m., and invite a select few individuals for a special dinner. Make sure to do this in advance and use this time as a chance to build relationships and bond with others from around the country. And don’t pass up the chance to talk to attendees from other countries.

(5) LEVERAGE THE EXPERTICE OF YOUR VENDORS. Many leave it up to the vendors to organize entertaining; however, when vendors are entertaining they’re often selling. Use the time when you host to learn about your competition, the best practices they see and the industry trends. Listen deeply. Ask, “Who’s doing this best?” “What’s the future hold?” and “What’s keeping you up at night?” Build on these relationships and you will find yourself ahead of the curve more frequently than not.

(6) ALWAYS BE IN THE PATH OF YOUR PROSPECTS. As the crowd arrives be near the door, and when the crowd leaves have your conversations near the exit. You’ll be surprised how many people you’ll be able to catch and reconnect with this way. If you want to meet a speaker on the conference agenda get in their path before they speak. Often the speaker sits in the front of the room talking to no one. Go introduce yourself and let them know you’re excited about their speech. After they speak they are usually swarmed.

(7) ADVANCED NETWORKING. If the taxi line is huge, get a town car and pull someone from the line who’ll share the cost. You’ll make a new friend. Often, everyone is doing email in the lobby desperately searching for a power source. Pack a powerstrip in your bag. Offer to share juice with someone plugged in or invite others. Remember, the conference doesn’t begin and end at the show. When you land, look for people attending the show and if you can identify them offer to share a ride. In the time after the show between arriving at your airport gate and boarding, stroll the gates to see if people you know are waiting at theirs. Everyone has a travel story to share. With the right mindset and proper planning, it is easy to set yourself up for success when visiting your next trade show. Stay focused, be prepared and you will find that completing your trade show goals isn’t as hard as you once thought it was.

Vince Thompson is author of the “Ignited: Managers Light Up Your Company and Career for More Power, More Purpose and More Success,” which critics are hailing as “A Business Book for the Rest of Us.” To learn more and gain access to exclusive content visit: www.beignited.com.