Trade shows are opportunities for companies to spend large amounts of money on booths, demos, and shiny giveaways while hordes of attendees tromp around collecting miniature candy bars and tossing their loot in canvas totes like giddy kids at Halloween.

Planning for the event can be a minefield, with rounds of meetings that pit the spendthrifts against the frugal, while one side envisions a booth like the Taj Mahal and the other a booth made of Popsicle sticks and Elmer's Glue. And there are other things to plan, like the cocktail party the company will host at the show, where the debate centers on filet mignon versus cocktail weenies floating in sweet and sour sauce.

The person in charge of the exhibit must coax these diverging sides together with an approach that is a combination of psychologist, firm parent, and U.N. negotiator.

Eventually, the big day comes and it's time to go to the show. Inside a cavernous cement room, everyone is busy setting up their booths while eyeing the competition to see whether their Taj Mahal folks won the planning debate. If so, your booth will seem to shrink until it looks like a kid's lemonade stand with of couple of crepe paper streamers dangling from it.

Finally, everything's ready, the doors open, and the attendees file in.

The atmosphere in the newly assembled exhibit hall is one of hushed excitement. As a matter of fact, some of the exhausted exhibitors have excitedly hushed themselves to sleep over in their booths. People roam around with bags full of brochures and gadgets, searching for the latest technical breakthroughs, or at least looking for who's giving away the best stuff.

And Then the Fun Really Starts …

After a long day of trade show fun, it's time to head back to the hotel to freshen up for the evening's festivities. So everyone puts on their glad rags, which are probably the same glad rags they've had on all day, and steps out for a night of fun and frolic.

At the party, attendees are greeted by representatives from the company whose job it is to welcome everyone, collect their business cards, and hand out name tags. These poor souls are probably marketing folks who've been coerced into wearing a getup that goes with the theme of the party, like a cowboy hat or a buccaneer's eye patch. They've also been given instructions not to eat or drink. They're clearly not amused.

Inside there's the lively sound of a DJ begging folks to get up and dance. But no one's dancing because they're trying to figure out how to balance their plates of food and drink while carrying on a conversation. Can't someone come up with a solution for that?

At some parties, people eventually loosen up and start dancing. Take my advice: Resist the temptation to get out there and gyrate wildly with the VP of marketing. Remember, you probably have several more days of trade show festivities in front of you and things will go a lot smoother if you don't have to wear a bag over your head for the rest of the week.

When he's not writing humor columns, Mike Donlin writes technical and marketing articles, presentations, and press releases for the electronics industry. He is based in Hudson, N.H., and can be reached at