Attending NBAA-BACE Convention? Tips to get the MOST out of the show.
NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE, often just called “NBAA”) is the largest tradeshow event focused on business aviation. Having attended more NBAA’s than I care to admit, one thing I’ve learned for certain—whether you’re a first-time visitor or a grizzled vet, with a little planning, this show can be the most rewarding (and exhausting) three days of your life.
With NBAA22 just a few weeks away, the time to start preparing is now. So I’ve picked the brains of my fellow NBAA vets to put together their pro tips and advice for getting the most out of show, as well as answer the more common first-time attendee questions like what to wear at NBAA, what to pack, and where to go.
Here are their tips for attending NBAA-BACE:
Attire – It’s still “business” aviation, but it’s steadily becoming more casual
Unlike many large tradeshows that are trending toward very casual dress, NBAA still sits along of the spectrum of business formal and business casual.
For men, attire runs the gamut from polo and khaki pants to business suits. For women, a range of looks is also the rule—but again, a more “sharp business casual” is the norm (including a tailored jacket). You can opt for a skirt or pantsuit. Most importantly: leave the high heels at the hotel, or pack them in your carry bag if you want to change on the fly for a special event on the show floor or after hours. Or, if you must wear a heel, a platform base pump with a block heel is your friend.
If you plan on wearing a suit and it’s been a while since you tried it on, make sure you do so before you arrive! This is one of the most common complaints I hear every year, and it sneaks up on even the most seasoned vets.
While the days are more business attire, make sure you bring some casual attire for nights out as well. And be ready to dance!
Pro tip: Whatever shoes you bring, make sure they aren’t brand new! You want something broken in. While the trade floor may look carpeted, it’s really just some tissue paper sitting on miles on concrete aisles. Save yourself the blisters. Your feet will thank you!
Packing – Make a list and check it twice
There’s nothing worse than realizing you left something you needed at home. Here’s a quick punch list of some less-than-obvious items you’ll want to add to your packing list to help ensure a smooth NBAA.
- Business cards – maybe this isn’t a strange one, but it’s easy to forget
- Band-Aids – to cushion any blisters you get from walking
- Lightweight backpack to carry your stuff at the show, as well as stuff you may acquire. Don’t get stuck hauling a 25lb tote bag!
- Hand sanitizer
- Lint roller – or in a pinch, a wad of packing tape from the hotel front desk will work
- Portable steamer + wrinkle releaser (or you can use the steam from your shower to help smooth out wrinkles)
- Noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset to easily take calls on the show floor
- Mobile power bank charger and cord for your phone
Pro Tip: Write yourself a punch list of what you want to take to the show every day – like a day pack, business cards, etc. On that list, make sure to include your NBAA attendee badge. There’s nothing worse than getting to the show on day two and realizing you forgot it!
Super Pro Tip: Stick a bunch of your business cards into the lanyard sleeve holding your NBAA attendee badge. That way, you always have some with you no matter what.
Super Bonus Pro Tip: Lost luggage is now also commonly a victim of the airline’s service issues. Apple AirTags are a great way to keep track of your baggage and can significantly speed up the process of reuniting you with your lost luggage.
Take advantage of educational opportunities
While NBAA is most famous for its amazing tradeshow and static display, it also offers great educational opportunities.
From NBAA-certified educational tracks and recurrent training to industry hot topics and insights from business aviation leaders, I recommend attendees review the official NBAA agenda well in advance of the show and schedule time to attend the sessions that best fit your goals and interests.
Official NBAA sessions are not the only educational opportunities. Many exhibitors offer educational sessions, one-on-one consultations for your specific operational questions, and first-looks at the newest technologies available. Make a list of who you want to visit in advance and reach out to find out what they’ll be featuring in their exhibit so you can pre-register.
Pro tip: Many attendees don’t realize that they can also attend NBAA press conferences and briefings. Take a look at the schedule posted by NBAA and sit in on any media events that you may find interesting.
Plan meetings in advance
It’s the best way to ensure you’re leaving NBAA with the answers you need. However, with more than 25,000 people and hundreds of exhibitors, it’s easy to be late to or miss a meeting entirely because you got intercepted, stuck in a conversation, distracted, etc. Build buffers into your schedule to account for this and be prepared to adjust on the fly.
Pro Tip: Tuesday is usually the busiest day on the show floor, Wednesday is busier on the static, and Thursday is very light overall. Many pros take advantage of the slower Wednesday and Thursday times to set their meetings. They tend to be more relaxed and productive.
Get your badge early – avoid the lines.
Pre-register online at the NBAA website, then pick up your badge at either the static display or the convention center at a self-service kiosk. Onsite registration and badge pick-up will be available daily, starting as early as a few days before the show. The kiosks can get congested so try to get your badge no later than the Monday afternoon to avoid the lines.
If you can’t preregister online and have to register onsite for any reason, try going in Monday afternoon before 5:00 pm when you arrive from the airport!
Getting around – it’s a big show!
The convention is massive…a huge exhibition hall with hundreds of exhibitors, plus the static and educational sessions. The easiest way to stay on top of it is to download the official NBAA app. The exhibitor search and floorplan locator are my favorites.
NBAA also offers a very efficient free shuttle bus service from the sanctioned event hotels and to/from the Convention Center and the Static Display. The ride-share services and taxis also have marked pick-up areas at the Convention Center and major local entertainment venues.
NBAA nightlife and off-site entertainment – plan in advance.
During show hours isn’t the only place to network, get the latest news, and meet new industry contacts. The nightlife can be just as productive, and you should have a plan in advance.
Dinners are great for one-on-one discussions, free from the distractions of the show. If you’re leaning this route, set those appointments now. Whoever is on the hook to make the dinner reservation will greatly appreciate it! Last-minute reservations at a decent restaurant can be a Herculean effort during NBAA.
Exhibitor-hosted events are another great way to go, and there are lots of them to choose from on both Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The early parties (from 6 – 10 PM) are usually where you can find a meal. The later parties are where you can pretty much assume your 9 AM meeting is getting missed.
Most of these are invite-only, so reach out to exhibitors you work well with in advance of the show to see what’s going on. Don’t wait until NBAA!
Carry a power pack for your phone and USB cable. The days are long, and you’ll need power. If you are spending any time in an exhibitor’s booth, ask them to plug in your phone for you…even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
Don’t forget lunch
You can always stand in line at the convention center to buy your lunch, but there are better ways. Check with exhibitors you work with to see if they are hosting any catered sessions in their exhibits…like a lunch and learn food sampling, or mixer.
Prescheduling meetings with exhibitors you want to speak with over lunch is another great way to go. And your exhibitor rep will be famished as well from a fast day at the show, so it’s a win-win! Don’t skip having at least a light lunch or multiple small snacks throughout the day, as it will kill your energy later, and you’ll miss out on the evening networking opportunities.
Take care of your health
You will come into contact with more people in the three days of NBAA-BACE than you will the rest of the month. But with that close contact comes the risk of picking up a whole variety of nasty bugs, COVID included. Make sure to bring plenty of hand sanitizer for your personal use and recommend that your organization have it available within its exhibit.
Also, stay hydrated. Lack of sleep, dehydration, and close quarters is a recipe for weakening your immune system. Talk to your healthcare provider before the show to discuss strategies, like the COVID/flu shot that may help you resist picking anything up.
Tips on items to bring along:
- Eye drops
- Nasal saline spray (for post-airplane dryness!)
- Small pocket packs of tissues and pain relievers
- Lip balm
- And one of my favorites: throat lozenges/cough drops (to soothe your dry mouth and throat after talking for hours!)
Fill most of your swag bag on day 3!
With hundreds of exhibitors, there will be a lot of free stuff given away. But you don’t want to be hauling 25 lbs. worth of stuff all day.
So here’s my recommendations…pick up a few “premium” things worth carrying Tuesday and Wednesday (and don’t forget to bring your daypack). Treat Thursday as your BIG HAUL day. This is where you can load up on pens, toys, and knickknacks for your coworkers and family. Around 11 AM, exhibitors are going to start offloading all their “treasures” to avoid shipping anything back.
What are your NBAA-BACE tips and strategies?
Even with nearly a decade of shows in the book, I know there are a lot more tips and tricks out there. I’d love to hear your best ideas for making the most of NBAA. I’ll include the best in an updated article next year (with full attribution to the contributor!).