Do yourself a favor. Check out our unofficial guide to surviving — and thriving — at IMEX America.
IMEX America is a massive trade show, by far the largest meetings, events, and incentive travel show in North America. That also means it is intense and overwhelming, even for the most experienced attendee.
While many other shows may have a much larger footprint, this show is condensed. With almost no physical products on display, every square foot is used to conduct meetings, participate in education, or network in some way.
The show has many fans. Just search the #IMEX22 hashtag on any social media platform to see the latest posts. This is the show where everybody is. It is a mandatory show for destinations, properties, and event tech execs looking to build their sales pipeline.
Where else can you go from New Zealand to Spain or South Africa to Korea just by crossing an aisle?
The show is free to attend. Yes, visitor registration costs $0. It is not open to the public, but anyone with a professional interest in meetings, events, incentive travel, and related sectors is welcome.
The show revolves around pre-qualified buyers making appointments with suppliers on the show floor. Many buyers are hosted, meaning that airfare and hotel costs are covered by IMEX. Buyers and suppliers have access to dedicated scheduling tools to coordinate appointments. In practice, this means there are real business conversations happening at all times on the busy show floor.
It’s a three-day show (Tuesday to Thursday), and the show floor is open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm (4:30 pm on the last day). The Monday before the show officially opens, there is a full day of education with a multitude of sessions, including the Skift Meetings Innovation Lab. Some sessions are exclusive and by invitation only, but most are open to all, including various sessions that form part of Smart Monday, powered by MPI.
A lot happens off the show floor as well. Some companies have internal, or client meetings and associations hold board meetings around the show. There are also plenty of parties and networking breakfasts, lunches, and dinners all taking place around the show.
This all adds to a constant feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out). Even if you are present and active at the show, you will never physically be able to meet with everyone or be at every event. That is why it is important to plan carefully; these hacks will help.
Before You Go
1. Book Meetings in Advance
Whether you are a buyer or not, book meetings with the people you can’t afford to miss. They will be busy too. So plan your time carefully and block out times for meals and other non-negotiables.
2. Check What’s On
Plenty of gatherings happen on and off the show floor, so make sure you explore these as you are making your schedule and put them in your diary.
3. Don’t Overfill Your Schedule
It’s easy to have back-to-back meetings all day. Avoid this if you can. There will be things that pop up, and having some wiggle room will help. You may also want to consider leaving the first hour of the day free, so you can get your bearings.
4. Get to Know the Show Floor
The show floor layout can be overwhelming, so take a moment to get the hang of it. There is a clear logic with numbers referring to one direction and letters the other. With the booths having irregular sizes, this is not a clean matrix, and some numbers skip. There are also unofficial zones. Hotels are grouped together, and so is event tech. Continents are also grouped together.
5. Book Adjacent Meetings
Traversing the show floor multiple times is a sure recipe for exhaustion. So when booking meetings, try to book back-to-back with exhibitors close to each other.
6. Connect Beforehand
Don’t wait until you are onsite to start networking. Instead,connect with people online and start those important conversations. This will help you make the most of your time at the show.
7. Pack Your Business Cards
Whether you prefer physical or digital business cards, make sure you are ready with them. Bring any other materials you need. Come prepared to do business.
8. Clear Your Calendar
It may be tempting to try and have a typical work week while taking in the show on-site. Avoid this at all costs. Trying to do both is a sure recipe for disaster. If you’ve invested the time in being at the show, then make sure you are fully present. Do yourself a favor, set an out-of-office message, and be present.
9. Pack for Self-Care
Comfortable shoes are a must. A reusable water bottle is also an excellent idea. Even healthy snacks that you can carry around, like a pack of nuts, is a good idea.
10. Stay Connected
You always want to stay online in case schedules change or if you want to look something up. With this in mind, make sure you have a good 5G connection or check the available Wi-Fi hotspots. Many lounges and spaces on the show floor offer Wi-Fi, so be on the lookout. You may also want to bring an extra charger and charging cables. You will likely run out of juice.
11. Sign Up for “Sweatworking“
There are multiple opportunities to work out with industry colleagues, a welcome variation to alcohol-heavy drinks receptions that tend to go on until late. The original IMEX run is going strong, and there are now more options, such as the Get fit with the PCMA Foundation sessions.
12. Monday Is for Education
If you’re in Vegas on Monday, even if you only arrive in the afternoon, check out the many education sessions taking place. Many are free and open to walk-ins. Just make sure you bring your IMEX badge with you.
13. Explore the Show Floor
Navigating the show is tricky, even for experts. When you first arrive, take a few minutes to explore the show floor to get your bearings. If you don’t have appointments booked first thing, this is a good time to do so. The larger and taller booths are good reference points; make sure you get the hang of how booths are numbered.
14. Find the Lounges
If registered as a hosted buyer, you have access to a dedicated Hosted Buyer Lounge. Use it. You can take some time off, get refreshed, and much more. Even if you don’t have access, there are plenty of other lounge-type areas around the show floor designed for your comfort. Don’t be afraid to use them.
15. Explore Education at the Inspiration Hub
The Inspiration Hub (booth #F606) is the main area with education content at IMEX America. There are more than 200 sessions in total, with ongoing education throughout the show. So if you have some free time, make sure you explore this area. Most sessions are open to drop-ins, and formats like campfires allow for small group engagement with top speakers and experts.
16. Get Event-Tech Educated on the Go
With so many event tech options, finding the right tools is a big job. At IMEX America, there are Tech Tours, offering valuable group exploration of some of the event tech exhibitors.
17. Keep Sustainability in Mind
IMEX is known for taking sustainability seriously, including sharing a full report for each show. Onsite this is reflected in the IMEX-EIC People and Planet Village, where the motto is — People before profit. Gratitude before growth. Regeneration over degradation. Well worth taking a few minutes to explore this space.
18. Golden Badges Are Here to Help
If you need assistance, look for IMEX staff and partners wearing golden badges. They know the show in-depth and are always ready to help.
19. Practice Self-Care Onsite
Make sure you drink plenty of water. Vegas is in the desert and we tend to talk a lot at trade shows, so don’t let your throat dry up. When you need a break, or want to join a mediation session, head to the Be Well Lounge to relax, refresh, and revive. There is no cost to drop by, and it is open to all IMEX America attendees.
20. Get Caffeinated
There are plenty of outlets selling coffee around the property, but looking out for great coffee being served at the larger booths is a nice hack. These activations are designed to attract buyers, so please keep this in mind. Most exhibitors are happy to invite visitors to join them for a coffee, and some even have creative baristas showing off their skills.
21. Cocktails and Mocktails
It’s not just coffee being served on the show floor. Some booths have fully stocked bars and attract buyers with signature cocktails and mocktails. These are great networking opportunities, so make the most of them. Remember to pace yourself — IMEX is a marathon, not a sprint.
22. Plenty of Parties
Later in the afternoons, from around 4:30 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, many booths host parties and networking receptions. This can be a lot of fun, but also quite noisy if you have a business appointment next door. Look out for fun activations and great F&B.
23. Networking Continues After the Show
Every night of the week, multiple parties are going on along The Strip. Some are private or invite-only, but many have tickets available for purchase. The largest is MPI Foundation Rendezvous. So if there is one unmissable social event at IMEX America, this is it.
24. Explore Booth Activations
Exhibitors use booth activations to attract buyers by showing off some of the most exciting things their destination or brand offers. This manifests in many different ways, from dancing to massages, VR headsets to photo ops. As a result, there is plenty to explore in all corners of the show.
25. Ask for Introductions
A top networking hack is to ask people you meet to introduce you to others. This works exceptionally well if you’ve shared your objectives or can be specific about the people you want to meet. Shows like IMEX America bring together industry professionals connected in many different ways. You never know who knows who, and this is a great way to lean on serendipity to build your network.
26. Use the Final Day to Your Advantage
The show’s final day, Thursday, is considerably less busy than the first two. That is no secret. But that can have plenty of advantages. The aisles are less active while the education program continues in full swing. Exhibitors can have more relaxed conversations with all attendees. Some of the best business and networking takes place on this last day.
After the show
27. Don’t Wait to Follow-Up
It doesn’t matter how you choose to follow up — email, LinkedIn, Instagram, or by subscribing to a newsletter, but do it right away. Whether you are exhibiting or just attending, continuing the conversations from IMEX America shortly after they happen is the best way to ensure your investment in attending the show is not wasted.
28. Plan for Next Year
Save the dates, or plan to participate in IMEX in Frankfurt. Remember all the things you enjoyed and the things you missed at IMEX America, so that you can make the most of the next show.