It’s that time of year again.

Come January, many of you will gather for the annual Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) Conference and Exhibition.

Whether you’re looking to check out the newest field equipment, earn some CEUs, meet new and old friends, or just interact with your peers, you’ll find it at this event.

Trade shows and conferences can be fantastic experiences. They can also be overwhelming – there’s so much to do and so much to check out. Some basic planning and preparation are necessary to maximize your experience at the event. With that in mind, here are some tips that can help:

Communication beforehand: If you’re a member of a grounds crew, find out what your boss’s expectations are for you. Are you expected to attend educational sessions? Get certifications? Talk to equipment manufacturers? All of the above? This goes both ways. If you’re the boss, make sure you clearly explain what you expect your employees to do/get out of the show.

Look at the exhibitors in advance: Find out who’s going to be at the show. You can do this by going to the STMA’s website and downloading the show guide. If you’re going with a group, plan who you want to visit and when. In other words, divide and conquer. Try creating categories, for example, a “must visit” list and a “want to visit, time pending” list. Also, give yourself time limits.

You don’t want to get stuck at one booth for too long, missing an opportunity at another. Allow time for browsing, distractions and long lines at popular booths. Look at the trade show floor map in advance. (FYI: The show directory and schedule often change several times before a show; get an updated one.)

Look at the educational offerings in advance: Once again, go to the STMA’s website and check out the show guide. You can see what classes you want to attend and map out a schedule. It will save you a lot of hassle if you do this in advance. Split sessions with your colleagues/fellow crew members to maximize data gathering and learning opportunities. I recommend taking a digital recorder to record classes. If not, a pen and paper will do fine for note-taking.

Reach out to exhibitors in advance: Most exhibitors and companies allow you to call/email ahead and make an appointment. This is recommended for those “must visit” exhibitors on your list. Also, don’t be afraid to avoid conversations with vendors you have zero interest in.

Business cards: If you don’t have business cards for yourself, make them now! Despite the fact that seemingly everything is done via smartphone now, business cards are still relevant at trade shows. Bring enough to pass around, and take any business card given to you and file them away.

You never know when you’ll need one, and when that time comes, you’ll be glad you saved it.

Wear the right gear: Don’t wear your work or hiking boots to the event. Odds are, there’s going to be a lot of walking (to and from the hotel, around the show floor, out in evening, etc.). Pack comfortable, practical shoes and clothing. Speaking of packing, don’t forget to leave room in your suitcase for swag that you’ll get at the show.

Do research on the venue: Check out attractions you might want to see after hours. Research good spots to eat. Take five minutes to look at a map to familiarize yourself with where your hotel is in relation to the convention center and any other points of interest. If you’re flying to the event, a perfect time to do this is in the airport beforehand – when there’s always time to kill.

Network – and have fun: It’s not all about checking out mowers and sitting in classes. Use this opportunity to network with peers, industry leaders and anyone else that you may want to connect with. Get invited to exhibitors’ hospitality suites. When it’s time to make lunch, dinner and after-hours plans, I recommend seeing what the local places have to offer. Go somewhere you can’t get at home and avoid national chains; this adds to the richness and overall experience of a trade show and conference. See you there!