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Surviving SEMA: What You Need To Know

sema-survival-guide So you want to go to SEMA for the first time? There are a few things you should know: SEMA is the like the Superbowl of car shows, it includes the who’s-who from an industry standpoint and always has the largest manufacturers and best vehicles onsite. Set towards the end of the year (November), SEMA is the culmination of the aftermarket season while also providing a peek into what’s new for the upcoming year. sema-survival-guide-booth SEMA is HUGE! 100,000 people, 2,300 exhibitors, and over a million square feet of space at the Las Vegas Convention Center – that’s a lot of people, a lot of vendors and a lot of space to cover! I used to do it all in one day, but I don't recommend it - you'll want to go a minimum of 2 days and all 4 days if you can swing it. Attendees at SEMA fall into 3 categories:
  • Exhibitors
  • Attendees
  • Media
sema-survival-guide-icon-truck Having attended SEMA for over 15 years now I can honestly say that the actual categories should be:
  • I’m here to sell you something.
  • I’m here to party, oh and I like cars.
  • I’m here to take pictures.
#kiddingnotkidding – SEMA is the largest melting pot of personalities and the sheer amount of people (not just cars and products) alone can be overwhelming. Here’s a checklist of how to prepare for your first SEMA show. SEMA_LOGO

You Shall Not Pass!

Do you have a pass? SEMA is closed to the general public. You must meet the exhibitor, attendee or media criteria in order to attend (visit for more registration criteria). You don’t want to be one of those people looking for a pass. 458_nitto_SEMA


Your particulars will vary depending upon why you’re attending the show, but essentials to include are:
  • Flash or Tripod along with your camera– the lighting is decent in the convention center, but to prevent blurriness you’re going to need to be incredibly steady or you’ll need a stop of light to get your image sharp. Unless your lens is fast.
  • Extra batteries…for everything – there’s a lot to see and you want to be able to keep moving, bring extra batteries for anything electronic so you don’t find yourself tied to a wall with an outlet. The media center is a nice place to setup, but if you’re pressed for time it can be out of the way.
  • Snacks – Seriously, food is at a premium (both cost wise and availability wise) and you don’t want to waste time standing in line. Either go to lunch early or late, or bring something to snack on during the day while you're busy networking and making your way through the different halls.
  • Map – Again, if you’re not familiar with the venue, this is essential. Highlight want you want to see first and then see what works out chronologically and logistically. Large manufacturers have releases that are scheduled throughout the day; I would suggest getting the stuff you want to see most taken care of very early or very late to avoid the crowds.
  • Laptop – Essential if you need to edit images or blog on the fly. Again, this is completely dependent upon why you may be attending.
  • Pack light – As light as you can. There are so many giveaways (they’ll even have bags for you) that you’ll most likely be leaving with more than you came with.
  • Business/Contact cards – You’re going to run into so many people and forget so many names, this is my go-to. It’s handy, it gets people to remember you and you can always ask for theirs if you forgot their name. Not that I’ve ever done that…

What’s your focus?

Why are you attending SEMA? I’ve attended both as Media and as an Exhibitor representative and regardless of why you are attending, find your focus and stick with that. SEMA can be overwhelming. Lots of products, cars and people to see and it’s easy to get lost or sidetracked quickly. Lock in on your purpose and stay focused. hyundai_sema

Divide and Conquer

It’s all about being organized - if you have a top 10 as far as what you want to do or see, break that into a top 5 and bottom 5. Then see where they are located and focus by hall, to see where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck. If you're interested in wheels and tires, the South lower hall is all you - but even so, if there’s a particular project car you want to check out chances are it may not be in the same hall. Use the SEMA guide and prepare early so you’re not standing around looking at a map. Hit your most important things first, then you can go hall by hall. SEMA_2012_nitto

Be flexible

As with anything, don’t expect it to go smoothly. Lots of people, lots of expectations – be flexible with your time and be patient. It’s going to take extra time to meet the people you want to, see the cars you want to see and the products you want to buy. Everyone is there for the same reason so keep that in mind. The show runs Tuesday-Friday, with industry parties practically every night. Pace yourself and follow a few of the guidelines above and you’ll have a great experience at SEMA. Don't forget to use #livefromSEMA on your social postings while you're there. If you won't be at the show this year, we'll have a wide array of coverage here on and can give you an up-to-the-minute view of what people at the show are excited about!
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