OptoWest – A Behind the Scene Look at Trade Shows

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I was just honored the other day to again be asked to participate in the COA’s Education and Professional Practice Committee. Being a participant for the last couple of years, I have developed a new appreciation for the planning of educational trade shows and the volunteer efforts that go into the planning.  Since OptoWest is coming up in April (Indian Wells) I thought I would give you a brief rundown of what it takes to put on a trade show and what happens behind the scene.


  • Planning a trade show takes a few years. Once you get a location/hotel/convention center, you book it for anywhere from 3-5 years in advance. You have to book the hotel/convention to guarantee you a price. We all know how much hotel rooms have gone up!
  • You have to look at the dates and try to plan it with non-conflicting events and holidays.
  • Hours and Hours go into this planning.

Inside Staff

If you ever wondered what the inside staff does at your local state organization- every single one is involved in putting on a trade show. From pictures, press releases, marketing, finding sponsors, working with vendors, plus organizing speakers, printing, cost analysis etc…


Volunteers are usually state OD’s and opticians who volunteer their time, (taking off work) to help plan and market the trade show. Meetings, conference calls and emails fly back and forth to help bring to you the best educational event.


It used to be, if an convention center had an opening, you just reserved the space. Today it’s all about room blocks. If you cannot guarantee a room block, you may not get the best location, hotel or convention center. In addition, if you guarantee the room block and don’t fill that room block you have to pay extra for all those rooms. Even if they sell them to someone else! For instance, if you guarantee 100 rooms at $100 ($10,000) and only 50 rooms are booked, you have to pay the extra $5,000. So it is very important if you are attending a trade show to use the hotel’s they recommend.

In addition, some hotels/convention centers will not take you for a measly 100 room block. Thus begins the search for a hotel/convention center who will take you with the room count.

Then, you have to look at exhibitor space. What hotel/convention center has the space for the number of vendors? You have to do an estimate of vendor space and try to find the most ideal location for the exhibit hall so that the attendees go to the exhibit hall. Not every hotel can accommodate a larger exhibit hall and yet others will not take a smaller exhibit hall. If the vendors are unhappy with the exhibit space, they will not come back, feeling it’s a waste of time.

Here’s the rub with vendors- When vendors go to a trade show, and there is no traffic (customers and potential customers) they don’t go back. Vendor costs include 1.) booth space 2.) shipping 3.) hotel and food 4.) Giveaways and promotional items 4.) Loss of sales if they are out of the field 5.) Travel costs.

So an organization needs those vendors- because if they don’t get the vendors, they don’t make money, so it ends up costing the optical professional more more to attend a show, and it could cost the state organization money.


Lining up Speakers and their topics takes hours and hours from the volunteers and staff. First COA contacts the speakers to get updated topics and confirms availability of the speaker. They also have to look at costs. Head Line Speakers bring attendees, but are much more costly. It’s a constant juggling of Head Line Speakers and Up and Comers. You need a good mix of speaker types and topics in order to be successful and attract attendees.

After putting all those speakers into spread sheets (hugely tedious and mind numbing) every single speaker is gone over, the topic reviewed in order to give a wide selection of topics, and reviewed and reviewed and reviewed……Getting speakers starts 1 year in advance- Can you believe that!


On order for the attendees to have a good time, network and come back every year- you have to plan some events. Whether it’s a wine tasting (Monterey Symposium) golf outings, Chocolate Tasting (Optowest 2008). Having fun and entertaining events is crucial to the success of any educational or trade show.


This is a continuous daily activity, looking for sponsors to support speakers, breakfast, lunch, dinner, gifts, events. Last year in Long Beach Vision West even supported the Recycle Containers! The reason, speakers do not work for free, the rooms are not free, and the food is very, very expensive. To offset the cost of the educational/trade show and to save the attendees money, it is imperative to find sponsors! Who else is going to pay the $100.00/gallon coffee, water bottles and sodas run from $3.00 each, then add on the gratuity and then add on the tax and then all the other state, local, tourist, energy and water taxes.


Evaluations are taken very seriously. COA staff micromanages all evaluations, tracks all reports on vendors, speakers, locations, time, events, complaints and more. When the event is over all evaluations are put into spread sheets and suggestions are made to improve for the next event. It’s a constant battle to keep everyone happy, and continue to be the best educational event.

I have probably forgotten some things- but I think you can get the gist of the endless planning and preparation to give you the optical professional quality education, networking opportunities and a fun time for not only you, but your staff as well.

I hope I will see you all in Indian Wells!

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