As a trade show infotainer, I pride myself on being prepared for any eventuality. In my experience, Murphy’s Law – which states, if there is anything that can go wrong, it will – seems to ring true for most trade shows. The acronym A.H.A.B. has served me well in these instances. A.H.A.B. stands for Always Have A Back Up. My last trade show in Houston is a perfect case study of how being prepared pays off in the end.

I make it a habit of packing all of my essential performance tools in my carry-on. Sure there are some things that can’t be carried onto a plane: nuts and bolts, my four staple guns, and my 16″ needle. However, this probably isn’t an issue for the average trade show exhibitor. I also travel in clothes that I can perform in. I do this because I know it’s only a matter of time before the airlines lose my luggage. Sure enough, that is precisely what happened this time. Because I was prepared, this slight inconvenience wasn’t the least stressful. Annoying yes, but not stressful. I jumped through the hoops and filled out the forms so that when they found my bag, they could deliver it to my hotel.

In the meantime, I went to the expo hall to set up for the next day’s trade show. I arrived to find everything in order. My stage had been shipped to the booth, and the sound system was all set up. However, I did notice they hadn’t set up an additional wireless microphone for a back up. I plugged my wireless microphone into the system, sound checked it, and then left for my hotel.

It was a sweltering 29 degrees Celsius, and I was stuck wearing a suit. I grabbed a quick salad at Wendy’s, and then cooled off in my air conditioned room. Knowing that I would most likely need to wear the same clothes the next day, I waited as long as I could in case I needed to leave my room, then I washed my dress shirt in the sink using a little Tide packet that I carry with me in my little emergency kit. Below is a picture of my little Grid-It! case. It contains a sewing kit, a Tide pen, lip balm, breath mints, a shoe horn, and a lint brush. In the zippered compartment on the back, I carry band-aids, Brush-Ups (for teeth), Tylenol/Tylenol cold/antihistamine, tea (for my throat/voice), and a shoeshine cloth.

Once my shirt was clean I pulled a real MacGyver and rigged the hairdryer on one of the hangers to dry my shirt. I did a little ironing, and I was all ready to rock for the morning. (Speaking of MacGyver, I learned a little trick a while back. In the picture above you might notice something black and shiny wrapped around the Tide pen. I wrap markers, glue sticks, and Tide pens with a foot or two of duct or gaffer’s tape. You never know when that might come in handy, and it sure beats bringing a huge roll of tape with you.
Fortunately my bag was delivered at ten that night, and I was able to get all my toiletries and equipment for the following day. I was actually kind of disappointed because I was so prepared that I wanted to see it all through.
One evening I got the chance to hang out with another magician friend who lived fairly close to the convention center. He picked me up and took me back to his house. He had an amazing magic collection, and following the tour of his home, we went out for a bite to eat at his favorite Greek restaurant. He had picked me up right after the show ended for the day, so I was still wearing my suit. Then, between delicious bites of Gyro, a big piece of lamb fell out of my pita, ricocheted off my sleeve, banked off the edge of the table, and then plopped onto my pants. Tzatziki sauce was everywhere. I wiped it up as best I could, shook my head, and said, “That’s why I bring two suits.” Always Have A Back-up.

The rest of the trade show went very smoothly until the last day. I was just about to facilitate the draw for the big prize. There were about 200 people surrounding the booth when my microphone went dead. The battery had died after ten hours of presentations. I quickly ran into the interior of the booth to grab another 9 volt which is usually set out for me. But it was nowhere to be found. No problem, I have my back-up microphone. I turned it on, walked back on to the stage, and read out the drawn tickets until we found a winner.

My clients know how prepared I am and they appreciate it. They know that I am self-reliant, which gives them confidence and peace of mind knowing that I will handle whatever situation arises.

How prepared are you for your trade shows? Are there a number of things that can go wrong? Do you know what they are? Have you had issues in the past and, more importantly, what are you doing differently today to prevent these things from occurring in the future? Yes, it can be a pain in the butt to cover your ass. But when it really matters these precautions separate the Pros from the Joes. With a little thought and foresight, you too can become a real Captain A.H.A.B.

By the way the company I was working for is called Veeam Software. Guess what they make? Back-up software!