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Bridal Show 101: 6 Tips for Choosing the Right Trade Show to Attend

02/02/2015 04:32 pm ET | Updated Apr 04, 2015

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PHOTO CREDIT: Katya Williams Photography

If you've signed up for any bridal websites and gone gown or venue shopping you've likely heard of a few wedding shows in town--there are many! But it's not always clear which ones are really the most tailored to your needs, or will have the most to offer for you to enjoy and learn from.

What exactly happens at one of these shows? A number of things: Primarily, vendors will come together to showcase their talents at various booths or designated spaces. There may be food and cake samples from local caterers and bakers. You'll be able to peruse the offerings (with your mom, mom-in-law-to-be, bridesmaids, best friend, Mr. Wonderful and whomever else in tow) for what's typically a fair ticket price (see more below).

You can attend one of these shows at any stage of your planning. The right show will help you confirm your vision or help shape it in fun, maybe even unexpected ways. A show may also help you find your venue, key vendors, your gown, or encourage you to step outside the box and try a new bridal trend or event detail.

As an experienced former retailer, I've been to many of these shows myself--and I currently produce one annually. While I have participated as a vendor and curator in these shows, I've also attended as a guest, as both a curious professional and as a happy mother-of-the-groom.

Here are my top 6 suggestions for finding the best showcase to attend.

1. The event space should be wedding-worthy. Some bridal shows are held in drab banquet halls or meeting spaces--these are typically not the ones you want to attend. Instead, go to a show that's put on at a gorgeous hotel or event space. You will experience the service and potential of that venue--which is a wonderful way to "test-drive" it if you're considering holding your wedding there. At the very least, you will be able to glean ideas about details and logistics by attending a showcase that's held in a location that also hosts weddings. It's always worth seeing an event "in action."

2. A reputable person or company should be at the helm. Ideally, the show you attend will be hosted by a trusted vendor, industry insider or bridal magazine--a company or person with superior wedding expertise. This ensures that the show's exhibitors will be of a certain caliber as you can be sure they will offer you the most current and relevant products and services.

3. The vendors are people you might want to work with. Being top-notch isn't the only requisite for the vendors at a trade show you're considering: You also want to make sure the vendors in attendance are people you'd like to work with (and can fit in your budget). Spend some time online to research vendors you might meet at a given show to make sure their styles suit your wedding--and that their pricing works for you, too. Another important thing to note: The various vendor participants should be on the event website well in advance of the actual showcase. It is a serious sign if there's no fully-fledged vendor list visible. If the producer hasn't secured worthy vendors--and the event date is looming--he or she sell space to anyone who will pay their ask.

4. It offers more than just vendor booths. The right show won't just be booth after booth after booth of hard sell or competitive vendors. Look for shows that also include live entertainment, relevant demos, fashion shows, expert panels, food tastings, and other exciting activations. These additions not only keep the show from feeling monotonous, they also offer added value to you as a bride.

5. There are takeaway incentives for attendance. Trade shows can be (relatively) inexpensive opportunities to win great prizes. Typically, the better events can offer honeymoons, gift certificates and other fantastic raffled-off and grand prize items and there won't be a huge pool of people to compete against--meaning that the odds are high to win. At the very least, the show should offer some kind of swag bag to attendees that's filled with more than just vendors' printed collateral or keychains. (Another incentive to look for are discount ticket codes: Always check to see if there are coupons or codes to enter online before paying full price for attendance.)

6. The event's presentation is impeccable from the get-go--and consistent. Weddings are all about details and so too are wedding showcases. Choose a show that has a visually pleasing, well-executed website and flawless marketing materials--these set the tone for the show, after all. A haphazard site and typo-ridden fliers or informational copy are red flags that the event itself will be just as thrown together.