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Lose the Swag Bag: How to DeClutter at Trade Shows by Using Your Smart Phone

Remember that massive bag of swag you brought back from the last show you attended? Filled with stuff you were certain was useful when you picked it up, or took it from an eager young person in front of a booth? Remember what you did with all of that “useful” swag? An awful lot of it probably ended up in the trash or the recycling bin. The trade show industry is often heralded as the second most wasteful industry on the planet, behind either construction or manufacturing. I can’t confirm this factoid, but I can certainly understand why it gets so much mileage: an awful lot of the material taken in to a trade show leaves in cans and dumpsters.

Yep, vendors at trade shows are always trying to give you stuff: marketing collateral, pens, post-it notes, swizzle sticks… anything with their company logo on it. They’ll tell you’ll find these items, or the information on them, useful. You may… but, ultimately, its the information contained in these giveaways that will really provide value, and you don’t need one of those plastic bags with the perfectly round handle hole for that. Not, at least, if you have a smart phone.

That’s right: all of the useful items you’ll collect at booths – those with specs on a new product or contact information for someone you’ve met – became obsolete with the popularity of the smart phone. No more need to organize business cards, or product descriptions, or pamphlets with company info – just scan, swipe, and, click, and keep your hands free.

Want to avoid all that clutter and waste? Keep your phone on you, and keep these pointers in mind:

Look for QR codes: Smart vendors are learning how to cut the costs of their trade show visits by putting marketing collateral online. Quick Response (QR) codes make it really easy for anyone with a smart phone to download that material. Look for them at a vendor’s booth, or at other places around the show – one of the beauties of them for vendors is that they can put their codes up anywhere, and share collateral without meeting someone face-to-face.

Snap pictures: Your phone’s camera can serve as a helpful information-gathering device – just snap photos of vendor signage to collect information such as company names and URLs. An optical scanner app should allow you to easily extract the text from the photo.

Collect cards… without collecting cards: Networking is one of the most valuable activities available at trade shows, and smart phones make for much easier collection and organization of contact details than the old-school Rolodex. Numerous apps make sharing information a snap. Apps like ScanBizCards and WorldCard Mobile are available for both the iPhone and Android platforms, and allow you to collect information just by snapping a picture of a card. LinkedIn’s Cardmunch app allows you to keep card details, as well as link to a contact’s profile (it’s only available for iPhone, though). And, of course, if your contact also has the right software, you can just bump phones.

Talk to yourself: Want to keep track of details your hear easily from presentations or conversations? No need to carry (or pick up) a notepad or pen: just use the voice recorder on your phone. Of course, if you prefer typing, there’s also the notepad feature. The free Google Chrome browser app Transcribe makes it really easy to get those sound files into text.

Let the boss pay for lunch: OK, these probably don’t go in the swag bag, but you do want to keep your receipts for either reimbursement or tax purposes… and they’re no more fun to organize than any other paper item from the show. Expensify lets you scan your receipts and keep them organized – you can even submit your expense reports if the company’s set it up.

Got other ways you avoid the swag at trade shows with your phone? Let us know about them…

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, the founder and editor at, wrote this post on behalf of Smash Hit Displays, a tradeshow products company that offers the eco-friendly display systems.

Image via photo pin cc