Insider Exclusive: “An Introvert Walked in to a Trade Show…”

Insider Exclusive: “An Introvert Walked in to a Trade Show…”

A few tips for my fellow introverts navigating a major trade show/conference like a pro

By Nicole Sutton

I’m an introvert…in what stereotypically is an extroverted position: Sales.

Not only that, I’m a sales person in an industry where relationships are everything and trade shows and networking are necessary keys to success.

Many of my days at ABA’s 2019 Marketplace in Louisville, Ky., went from 6:45 a.m. until 10:15 p.m. Even for the most extroverted of extroverts, it’s exhausting. All interactions need to be full of energy and excitement. It’s game face and social time from the second I leave my hotel room until I return at night.

But, I don’t hide in the corner. I don’t skip events. And, I even do some extra things like volunteering. 

Below are some tips that make it work for me. The success equation will look a little different for everyone but find that balance of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and taking care of yourself – and you’ll be great!

Stay Active on Socials (like LinkedIn!)
I was shocked at Marketplace how many people commented that they love following my posts on LinkedIn! Not only does it build your network without being super social throughout the year, but when you do have the face-to-face time, it’s a great conversation starter! People already have things to ask you about.

Start with YOU Time

When I arrived in Louisville, I was already exhausted from a busy few weeks at work, some crazy personal things, and prepping for the show. Upon arrival, I decided to take an hour of “me” time. That means something different for everyone. For me, it was as simple as getting my nails done. It was me time where I couldn’t check email, I couldn’t do show prep, I couldn’t text. I just got to relax, breathe, and set a calm tone for the rest of the week.


This is an amazing way to be social without forcing it! With registration, for example, you get to be a friendly, welcoming face without needing to come up with conversation topics. With orientation, the same thing. There was a loose script to follow and I was able to interact with so many new people without having to be on my own to lead the conversation. For an introvert – volunteering is a great way to ‘hide without hiding!’ To the outside, you look super involved (which you are) … but to yourself, you know that this is a great way to avoid lengthy conversations and forced networking!

Schedule Quiet Time

Before heading to the conference, take a look at the full conference schedule and make your own personal schedule. Although it may not be possible every day, make sure to schedule time to yourself when it is. Even if I’m in my room catching up on work emails and projects or I make a quick escape to the gym for a workout, it’s still quiet ‘me’ time. It helps me recharge for heading back out for the rest of the day. If you know 14 hours of being social is too much, plan ahead for breaks!

The Dinner Plan

There’s a time for yes and a time for no.  When I first started going to these big shows, I felt obligated to be a joiner in dinner plans every night. It would stress me out. I’m not good at conversation in large groups – and on top of that, I’m a picky eater. It would overwhelm me beyond belief. Sometimes, you have to push yourself to say yes. Be social. And other times, it’s ok to say “no…I need some me time tonight.” It’s a personal balance. You have to push your boundaries and not always hide. But, at the same time, sometimes you need that break.

Most Importantly: Embrace Your YOU-ness!

I’m awkward. I get quiet sometimes. I’m not good at small talk. But, the more I put myself out there, the more I realize there are so many of ME out there! A post on LinkedIn that announced this article was in works led to comments, messages, and people stopping me to say that they couldn’t wait to read it because they were in the same boat. Sometimes, we think that we’re on our own and people don’t understand us. I promise that if you put yourself out there in the most honest way possible, people will embrace it and appreciate your honest YOU-ness!

Nicole Sutton is the Group Sales Manager at Mount Hope Estate & Winery in Lancaster County, Pa. After earning an undergraduate degree in Accounting, a master’s degree in Higher Education, and completing a stint in college admissions, Nicole fell into tourism as a happy accident and hasn’t looked back since. Creating interactive experiences for guests brings great joy and often doesn’t even feel like ‘work.’ Nicole has been referred to as a silent leader, sneakily good, and a social introvert. She prefers to think of herself as the ginger sales ninja. Connect with Nicole via email at or via LinkedIn – be sure to include a note with your request!

About the American Bus Association

The American Bus Association (ABA) is the trade organization of the intercity bus industry, with more than 1,000 motorcoach and tour company members in the United States and Canada. Its members operate charter, tour, regular route, airport express, special operations and contract services. Another 2,800 members are travel and tourism organizations and suppliers of bus products and services who work in partnership with the North American motorcoach industry.


Melanie Hinton, Director of Communications & Media Relations, ABA
Office: (202) 218-7220
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