The Way of the Road Warrior

There was no post on Friday of last week because I got to do something that I used to do a lot and haven't done in awhile: A trade show. And as I packed my bag in 10 minutes flat and woke up exactly 7 minutes before my 4am alarm buzzer to catch the plane, it occurred to me that the Way of the Road Warrior is engraved on my bones. No matter how long you're away from it, it's still there, waiting in your brain to reactivate the moment it hears the words 'booth space'.

I learned my trade show kung fu the way most Salespeople do: Years of travel to bland, lifeless hotels in cities all over the country, making mistake after mistake and surviving flameouts at crucial moments by learning to turn a paperclip, a rubber band, and a $6 bottle of minibar water into a substitute trade show booth 4 minutes before the doors open because the real booth is still sitting on a loading dock in Detroit.

Eventually, so many things go wrong on the road that you become bulletproof simply because your body is composed entirely of scar tissue, from your twitching right eye scanning for the merest glimmer of interest in the crowd to the soles of your too-expensive-but-concrete-is-hell jet black nurse's shoes.

Veterans of the Way understand that the size of one's expense account is inversely proportional to the remaining value of the traveler's soul. Some of us hope to redeem that pawn ticket by giving back to the newbies, telling them the accumulated wisdom of our ages - all of the things we wish someone had told us, 'way back when, including disasters we witnessed but were lucky enough to avoid. Here's the 1st batch:

  • If your shoes are dirty and you don't have time to get a shine, use your hotel washcloth and the hand cream that they all seem to pass out. If there's no hand cream, substitute hair conditioner, but be sure to buff it in.
  • Thou shalt always carry a Tide Stick.
  • If you have trouble sleeping on the Road, either because of jet lag or you just don't sleep well away from home, turn the thermostat in your room down to about 65 degrees. Make sure no light can enter the room at night, and as much light as possible hits your corneas during the day (sunglasses are the enemy).
  • If you have to go drink with a client, clients, or the boss, have 1 drink. Do not drink more. Make your 2nd drink ginger ale or ice water. By the 3rd drink, your companions will have forgotten that you aren't keeping up, and you will be fresh and unfrazzled come morning.
  • If you are an idiot and have more than 1 drink, despite my telling you in no uncertain terms not to, drink 1 glass of water for each mixed drink (in between drinks; at the end of the night does you no good), and 1 last glass of water with 2 plain aspirins (nothing fancy; aspirin) just before you sleep. And get to bed as early as you possibly can.
  • Never, ever, ever go drinking with colleagues who are not your boss. You will wake up in a pool of your own vomit, miles from your hotel, your wallet empty and your cell phone MIA, on the day that you were scheduled to lead the team-building exercise.
  • Your cell phone will die when you absolutely, positively can't afford for it to. Invest in a spare battery and keep it charged and in your briefcase.
  • Thou shalt always take the exit row. You're going to be on your feet for days. Give your legs a break while you can.
  • Your hotel room's alarm clock will work exactly the opposite of what you think, and their wake-up call system will fail on the day of your first-thing-in-the-morning presentation. That's why Brookstone still sells travel alarms: They are all purchased by Road Warriors.
  • Don't leave the hotel at night alone, no matter whether you are male or female, especially if you carry products with you. Like any other predator, local scum know which hotels house conventioneers and trade show travelers and stake them out, waiting for you to 'go see some local color'. Many states allow you to carry mace, and you can usually find it for $9 a canister in the local hardware store. Just make sure you don't take it on the plane (leave it in your room when you leave; it's only $9, and maids need protection, too).
  • Likewise, do not set foot in an unbranded cab, even in daylight, or take a tour of anything. If it's someplace worth seeing, wait until you can see it with your significant other on vacation.
  • Take 3 copies of every vital document, including 1 copy of your presentation, on paper, on your laptop, and on a jump drive.
  • If you wonder if you should get your hair cut before you go, do. Local stylists seem to have some deep-seated hatred of Road Warriors, and see us as potential hair design experiments.
  • Never, ever order the pizza from the brochure in your hotel room, even if it's a brand name. Likewise, unless you stay at a 4-star or better hotel, do not touch the shrimp cocktail. Cobb salads anywhere are fine.
  • Buy light reading material for the plane and the hotel room. You don't want anything that changes your outlook on life, your emotional state, or makes you stay up late because you have to know what happens next. I suggest crap you'd never normally read, like Entertainment Weekly (my personal favorite).
  • Splashing a little tap water from a glass onto your clothes as you iron them in your room will make them crisper. Make sure to let the water run a bit first before filling the glass; rust turns white shirts blotchy manila or gives them burned brown streaks.
  • Don't eat anything that's a local specialty, even if you stay at a 4-star or better hotel. Cuisine experiments are for vacations where a day or two spent in the bathroom will not cost you your job.
  • Don't buy anything as a gift for the folks at home while traveling. It will either go missing from your suitcase sometimes after baggage check or arrive crushed. Save your money and take them out, instead.
  • I know that no one under 35 wears a watch anymore, but wear a watch. Cell Phones die and watches don't at crucial moments.
  • If your office tries to give you a roommate, I have an answer that works every time (and, in my case, is true): Tell them up front that you snore like a tornado buggering a freight train, and that you just felt someone should know. I guarantee that you will sleep alone. (PS. Never make up a medical condition as an excuse for wanting a room to yourself. HR knows all, and will immediately report that condition to your manager, who will immediately start thinking about the laws of natural selection - and rightly so, if you lie to your employer.)
  • Make friends with the expense report lackey. Not the manager; they're impossible. Apologize immediately for any errors and rush to correct them. Turn in your reports as early as possible. Send a box of chocolate. No one does any of these things, and even one of them will earn your expenses the benefit of the doubt. (This is equally effective with the trade show company's rep if you need a booth at the last minute, or you need extra lights that you can't afford, or you prefer a better location before the show starts (after, you're doomed).
  • If you don't have enough lights, take a walk. There is always at least one company that paid to be there and didn't show up. Take their lights. They're paid for and would only go to waste, otherwise. I don't know why no one else seems to think of this, but I've scored extra lights at almost every show I've ever done.
  • Real Road Warriors - male and female - know to go light, light, light on perfume and cologne, if they use them at all.
  • If your tradeshow persona smiles, your face will be sore after a day on the floor. Soak a towel in hot water, lie down on the bed, and warp your face in the towel for at least an hour. It will fell brand new by morning.
  • Tradeshows are a performance. Every moment in the booth is show time. The only people who seem to get this are small companies and anyone from overseas. Reps from big companies spend their time at trade shows on their phones, iPads, or chatting with their buddies. This is why big companies gain nothing from shows, and why small companies - people who are hungry - attend. Guys, it really doesn't matter how big your freakin' booth is or who designed it if you forget that a trade show is a performance for Customers... and that you are not the Customer!

I could go on for days, and probably will in a future post. In the meantime, what are your favorite canons of the Way of the Road Warrior?

1 comment:

  1. Phil Borland • Great post, I would add, have enough in your carry on, so that you can carry on when the airline loses your checked bags, and have a fixed place for everything so that when you come to check that you have everything before you hit the road again it is all in the same place (reposted from LinkedIn)