SHOT Show Survival Guide: A Few Reminders as We Hit the Road for Another Year in Vegas

This didn

This didn't occur at SHOT Show, but this personal photo from 2008 is a stern reminder of what can happen if you're not prepared in Vegas. Maybe a few tips would have helped?

Whether it’s your first, your 40th (happy anniversary, SHOT) or you’ve never been—I hope this provides helpful insight to SHOT 2018 (or down the road).

Here we are again. Staring right down the barrel of another Vegas week ready to make or break the year, a few careers and of course, the internet. Either way, the industry’s biggest show is again breathing down our neck. It’s the same time every year, but it still roars in and grabs me by surprise. Hopefully I’m not alone.

SHOT over the years has left me hurt, humbled, harried and damn near helpless. Waking up missing the last 12 hours from your memory bank on a trip with your buddies for a bachelor/bachelorette weekend is normal (said my friend). At 6:00 a.m. on the second morning of a four-day show that you have a serious job to perform is absolutely terrifying (so I hear—again, from a friend).

But looking back, my personal survival of a decade worth of Groundhog Day-like chaotic SHOT experiences is nothing short of a miracle. This is due to the professional grind and pressure put on by this show—and of course, the crazy schedule before, during and after business hours.

Whether you’re scrambling for last-minute items to get your booth set up, or trying desperately to get back to your room out way too late again, sleep and SHOT do not mix well. A friend of mine once told me their sleep patterns and ability to function on normal amounts of caffeine and/or alcohol returned to normal in about August. I was aghast–at how quickly they recovered.

On a serious note. The following are a few guidelines and takeaways from my SHOT Show experience over the years (and of course a few stories from “friends” mixed in). Think of them as a beginning to a SHOT Survival Guide. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve stumbled through plenty and have a few takeaways I think are worth sharing. If you’ve been to the show I hope you find these familiar and useful. If you’ve never been, I hope they’re relevant one day. Finally—if this is your first show, Godspeed.

Get your mind right on the drive to the airport

This industry is great. We work with people all over the country regularly throughout the year. We spend hours and hours on the phone, trading emails and even collaborate late into holidays and family vacations. But we don’t interact with these people face-to-face. SHOT changes that. Suddenly you’re going to be on the spot to call people by name who you’ve worked with for an eternity, but have only seen them three times in your life. Facebook and social media stalking does seriously help this situation, but still—get prepared. If you’re not sure John Johnson is walking by you in the hotel, but you know last week one of his kids was sick, the family dog Fido ate two pillows and their dishwasher broke, it’s time to get serious.

Pro Tip: In the taxi or at the gate of your first flight out to the show, scroll your phone and/or contact list and read through names and visualize who you might see right away. Remember connecting flights. There are 50,000 people from the industry coming to Vegas. You’ll have no short of a dozen on your flight into Vegas. Get ready.

One of my coworkers (and mentors) showed me the value of this right away a few years back. He did a little prep and told me he was ready. He wasn’t lying. From the time we hit the ground in Vegas until we rolled up the carpet and ended the show, he was calling people by their full name from 20 feet. Didn’t even try the badge-peek cheat once. He was on fire—and it was impressive.

Start the SHOW slow, or you’ll wake up in the gutter on the third night

Like many tradeshows—SHOT is sneaky. It sets traps and is always trying to get its paws on you. Most attendees arrive a few days early for set up, pre-show meetings and other activities. Once the show opens attendees are already into the long days, and when the bell sounds only it’s early mornings and late nights from here on out. And that’s if you don’t go out for extracurriculars. Set up days aren’t picnics, but most people don’t have direct responsibility for the labor that goes into setting up their booth. This leads to a sneaky amount of free time. It’s easy to stay out late, or have a few extra beers. Do this, and you’re flirting with disaster my friend.

The first day of the show brings cocktail hours, sponsor dinners and invites to bars and clubs. If you’re not a practiced alcoholic (like ¾ of the industry) you’re in trouble. If you are practiced—you’re probably still in trouble. Things can and will escalate quickly here at the show. One moment you’ll be wrapping up a business meeting in the booth—and the next you’re trying to figure out just how many people you bought “one” drink for at the bar as you pay the tab that’s more than your mortgage.

It’s cold in the desert

Many of us will be on the range before the show, as Industry Day at the Range continues to grow and set records. So many people think of sun, sand and heat as they pack for Vegas. They forget that it’s January in a desert. I’ve found myself in this category a few times. I’ve lived most of my entire life in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. I know my way around cold weather. I even have the gear and clothing for it. But a few years ago at IDATR was one of the top 5 coldest times of my life! The worst part? I had warmer clothes in my room. Be prepared. Bring extra clothes and layers. You can always keep them in the car if the weather isn’t too cold.

Set all your meetings in the right time zone, please.

It’s 2018 and you know (so does your admin, computer, smart phone, smart watch, tablet, workout app and Facebook audience) that Vegas is in the Pacific time zone. Please plan accordingly.

Things will go wrong with set up

Whether you’re setting up the same booth you have for 20 years, or you’re brand new to the game, things will go wrong at set up. You will have forgotten a few things. Your team will have dropped the ball on something. The labor will have issues and run behind schedule. And finally, UPS or FedEx will put one of your crates conveniently in Utah. Regardless, be as prepared as possible to deal with this and relax a bit—it won’t be the end of the world and the show will go on.

Early in my career my boss gave me a huge life lesson. We were preparing for a very large media event. It was one of the first I had a big part in, and there were a lot of moving parts. A few weeks out he told me he wasn’t going to make it and I had the ball. Great opportunity for me, right? Well yes, but I was terrified I’d drop the ball. I did all my homework, followed up on every detail, checked and double-checked lists leading up to the event. I felt good.

A day before I left, he sat me in his office, told me how well I had prepared and said it would be a great event. He also looked at me and said “And no matter what, something will be missing or will be wrong. Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. Just deal with it and focus on the positives.”

He was right. I showed up and things were going great—until an industry partner of ours approached me with a stern look and demeanor. He proceeded to ask me “Where the hell” his items were that we had promised. Instantly blaming us (me) and saying how big of a disaster it was and how bad it made him look. He was being a little dramatic for effect too. As I started to get worked up, I remembered what my boss said. I let the frustrated fellow vent a bit, assessed the situation and jumped into action. Well actually it was simpler than that—I just asked another partner to borrow the item he was desperate to find. But the point is, we got it resolved, the world didn’t end and the show went on. Remember this in Vegas the first 10 times it happens.

Most interactions are exact replicas of conference calls

SHOT is the first large show of the year. It’s a time to see friends, competitors, coworkers and ex-coworkers. It’s fun to catch up with those you don’t see near enough and even better to recount hunts, experiences and other adventures unique to this industry. But the other 90% percent of conversations go like your weekly corporate conference call. Everyone talks about the show, the weather and the industry. Pro Tip: End these interactions like this—shake hands and make empty promises about staying in touch or working together someday. Take one step (or be rudely interrupted by someone hovering for your time) and engage in the next conversation/meeting on the calendar—then repeat and terminate the same way.

Remember your audience when the camera is in your face

A lot of “content” (broadcasts, interviews, stories, photos, videos, posts, Tweets, etc) is distributed from the show—and about four tidbits are even relevant/interesting. Sometimes it seems we marketers and manufacturers go on autopilot for hours at a time. We mindlessly repeat the same product features and benefits and corporate talking points we’ve been slathering over since June. I feel bad for actual consumers in this industry.

And my glass house is completely visible and evident here. There are multiple links and archived examples of bad (so bad) interviews, stand-ups and talking sessions with yours truly on the camera. Sure, in most of the videos I hit “all” the talking points from the product development team, corporate comms overwatch and the brand manager too. But from a consumer’s standpoint, it was horrible. Just another rough-looking, suit-wearing corporate jackass checking boxes and spitting information about some widget.

When the camera comes by this year, let’s make an agreement with ourselves. We’ll keep it short, relevant and maybe even mix in a little energy. Save the bullet point memorization for those evening business classes. This year at SHOT, let’s actually get people excited about what’s coming from this industry.

Don’t take that picture of or disclose the person who you saw stumbling down the strip at 6:30 A.M.

See my recommendation above. SHOT is dangerous, and your glass house is pretty vulnerable. Take a “less than ideal” photo of someone and you’re playing with fire. I don’t care if they’re your boss, best friend, biggest competitor or least favorite person in the industry. THERE IS NO UPDSIDE. SHOT is long, and if you hope your career in this industry is, listen up please. The chances of you being in the same position before this show is all over are better than you will admit. And every show the following year is the same. So do the poor, struggling soul a favor and help them find their hotel room, a shower and a nap. And keep your super awesome camera phone in your pocket, social media Steve. Keep this off Facebook, the internets and email and you’ve got one karma point on the right side of things. Save them up—you’ll need them.

Don’t insult, talk down to or otherwise spread ill-will about any person from the show—from any company

Yeah the industry is big—and it has grown a lot lately. Sure there’s a ton of companies and it’s easy to avoid people or companies with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye. But make no illusions—the industry is tiny. And it’s always changing. Many “competitors” or “rivals” have suddenly found themselves part of the same team after an acquisition, merger or sale. To decrease awkwardness or better yet—avoid on the spot termination—keep your thoughts about the jackass from competitor Z to yourself. He or she could be your boss, counterpart or valued team member next week.

Get a few hours of sleep

Vegas is great. But the lights are on for a reason. Countless people have lost their hopes and dreams. And more. Make the 2018 SHOT Show a little easier on yourself. This isn’t your town bar. And your favorite bartender doesn’t close down the joint and give you a safe ride home. This place never sleeps. And they don’t stop serving you drinks just because you’re due on the show floor in two hours. The meetings and c