29 Ways to Shine at Your Next Trade Show

How to Shine at a Show - from Kim Schlossberg Designs

Trade shows, exhibits, conventions, conferences – if you can meet your customers face-to-face, you have a fantastic opportunity to boost your business, if done the right way. However, if you simply rent your booth and show up with fingers crossed, you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities to make the show as successful as possible. There are many things you can do before, during and after the show, that together will help you build your business, your reputation, and your customer base.

  1. Define your main goal. It could be to sell merchandise, get 100 good leads, build a mailing list, find a new vendor or affiliate partner. Whatever it is, be sure to write it down and keep it in mind as you’re thinking through the rest of this checklist.
  2. Reserve your space. Consider booth size and placement, as well as your budget. Ends or corners might get more walk-by traffic, as will booths near snack bars or entertainment.
  3. Consider buying a sponsorship, if your budget allows. Typically sponsorships will offer you good promotional or advertising benefits, such as recognition (on printed materials, online, and on signage), speaking or publishing opportunities, and better booth placement, some that can’t be purchased on their own.
  4. Understand the specs of your space:
    • The size (make sure you’re clear on which dimension is parallel to the corridor and which is perpendicular to it)
    • Position on the floor (if it’s on a corner, end, etc.)
    • Which edges are open to the public vs. adjoining another booth?
    • Is there a pillar or any other obstruction you need to work around?
    • Do you need to rent a carpet from the venue?
    • Double check your booth number so you can use it on all your promotional materials.
  5. Understand your requirements and options related to your contract with the venue. Know when you’re required to use the venue’s staff for set-up and tear down, if you’re able to bring in your own food and drinks, etc.
  6. Invite people to visit you at the show – (current and past) customers, prospects, vendors, and collaborative partners. Build a good mailing list and invite everyone.
    • How can you make your invitation to stand out from others?
    • Will your budget allow for both email and print invitations?
    • Invite people far enough in advance so that if they weren’t already planning on attending, they can still register, get a flight, etc. Then follow-up a few days before the event to remind them to visit you.
    • If you don’t have email addresses for all your invitees, try to get them so you can more easily follow-up.
  7. Create an incentive for your contacts to visit you. This could be:
    • A contest or drawing
    • Introduce a new product or service
    • Food, drinks or entertainment
    • A party, lunch, or breakfast in conjunction with the show
    • A special talk or presentation
    • A special activity, such as a chair massage
    • If there are specific people you want to meet or talk to, call them to set appointments or lunch/dinner meetings.
  8. Design your booth
    • Know if your booth will be at the end of an aisle, a corner, or in the middle of a row of booths. In other words, know if you will have one, two, or three “fronts.”
    • Design your floor plan, and order any necessary furniture or accessories. You may need to get these from the trade show company, and they will be responsible for set-up and tear-down. Check your options early – if you can provide these yourself, it will be a lot less expensive.
    • Where and how will you display your collateral material in your booth so they’re easy for visitors to see and take, and also easy for your booth staff to keep tidy.
    • Know where you’ll be able to store back-stock of materials for replenishing after visitors pick them up.
    • Design displays. These will consist of hardware and graphics (often ordered together).
  9. Select and order display hardware. These can range from simple pull-up banners to a two-story building. One common set-up is for a nice back-drop wall with some pull-up banners to place at the front of the booth. When ordering new hardware, your considerations should be durability, ease of transporting and set-up, as well as cost.
  10. Work with your designer to create display graphics. If you are ordering a new booth, typically the graphics are ordered at the same time. Design the graphics to strongly communicate the company branding and attract attention from a distance. Keep in mind where other booth furniture will be placed relative to the graphics.
  11. If you already have booth hardware, often old graphics can be replaced if you want a new look, or if your old graphics got lost or damaged.
  12. Looping video on a monitor or two can bring people in from across the floor. A strategic call to action in the loop and can increase conversions dramatically.
  13. Decide if you want lights on your display or any other items that require electricity. For a smaller show, you might need to make sure electricity is available. Make sure to order lights that will work well with your booth hardware. Make sure to pack extra bulbs and extension cords in your display shipping case.
  14. Consider how you will be shipping your booth hardware. Most new hardware is ordered with a shipping container.
  15. If you’re using an older booth, take it out and assemble at least two months in advance of the show, so you can order a replacement or parts if necessary. Make sure you have all the parts, that everything is working and in good shape, that you know how to set it up, and that you have a good container to ship the booth and the graphics in.
  16. Design and print collateral material
    • Work with your designer to create handouts and brochures. You might consider a series of pieces if you have a variety of product/service offerings.
    • Order plenty of extra business cards.
  17. Make sure your website and social media platforms are up-to-date and consistent with the messaging and look of your booth and collateral material.
  18. Consider gifts and promotional items. As much as possible, select something that is unique, memorable, and that people will want to keep so your company name is top-of-mind for longer. Bags are great because other people will see your guests carrying them around, so you’ll get extra exposure. I usually recommend smaller, easy-to-carry items.
  19. Have a plan to gather the contact information of people who visit your booth. A drawing or free product/service trials are good ways to gather leads. Someone who enters a drawing for a free consultation, or for a free trial of your service is more likely to be a good lead than someone who enters a drawing for an iPad.
  20. Think about what you’re going to say to people. You might want two or three loose scripts, for people who are not familiar with your company, for those who are familiar but aren’t customers, and for returning customers. You’d be wasting a good opportunity if you only promote your drawing and don’t try to tell people about your new offerings.
  21. Develop a system to keep track of people who say they have a real, immediate need for your product or service. Write notes on their business cards and keep them in a different place from the large, general stack of cards you’ll inevitably collect. Follow up with them a couple of days after the event to work on next steps.
  22. IF YOU ONLY DO ONE THING – DO THIS! Keep in mind that everyone at trade shows could be meeting hundreds or thousands of new people, and seeing many new products or services. It’s really hard for them to remember you and your company when they get back to their regular life, so a solid follow-up for general booth visitors, people who enter your drawing, and other people you meet plan is the most critical success factor.
    • If you have an email list, ask visitors to subscribe. If you do a drawing, put a note on the bowl that people who enter will be automatically entered into the list.
    • Offer to send more information about your products or services.
    • Invite visitors to look at your website.
    • Do whatever you can to build the relationship so they think of you first when they need your products or services.
    • Contact them a month or two after the show to see how you can help them.
    • If you have multiple sales reps, before the show develop a plan to assign the leads to the appropriate representative.
  23. Social media plan.
    • Consistently use the official event hashtag and a hashtag specific to your own company and post regularly on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or wherever your audience is most likely to be.
    • Encourage booth visitors to post using these hashtags, as well.
    • If you don’t know what social media your audience is most likely to be using, a trade show is an excellent way to learn this information.
    • Take this opportunity to connect with people on social media for the future.
    • Consider making a short Facebook live video on your cell phone to attract attention to your booth. A demonstration or explanation of a new (or not-so-new) product or service would be ideal.
  24. Industry leadership plan. Look for opportunities to speak or publish an article in an industry publication to present yourself as an industry expert. If there is not an “official” opportunity, you can do this on your own in your booth, or rent a conference room for a presentation and invite your mailing list. Either way, send out invitations long before the show, and then again a few days in advance, and on the day of the event (day before if it’s early morning).
  25. Promote your show presence in all your regular advertising, and in every special advertising vehicle you pick up before the show. Be sure to mention your booth number and any special events so people are more likely to visit you.
  26. If there is a directory or show magazine, make sure your profile is as positive and thorough as it can be. Purchased advertising in these will go directly to your prospects. Some attendees keep these directories/magazines specifically to look for vendors year-round. Consider publishing an article or press release for extra exposure.
  27. Public Relations plan. Work with your PR person to send out appropriate press releases before, during, and after the show and to pitch special stories to industry publications. Introducing new products, services, or key personnel (or a new business) are prime PR opportunities.
  28. Show time! Here are some pointers to make the day of the show as productive as possible.
    • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
    • Get there early to get the booth in perfect shape, and to meet the other vendors (who could be prospects) on their way in.
    • Keep snacks and water (if allowed) in your booth.
    • If you don’t have multiple people in the booth, make arrangements with a neighboring booth to cover for each other for bathroom breaks, lunch, etc.
    • If you can get someone to cover your booth for an extended time, it would be good to visit all the other booths to find other leads who might be stuck in their own booth.
  29. Closing up the booth. Be sure you have all your leads and notes someplace where they won’t get lost, or won’t accidentally get packed in with your booth materials, not to be seen until the next show. Possibly the venue staff will be required to pack up your booth materials, so you’ll want to take out anything you want to do yourself before hand. Be careful to pack up the graphics so they don’t get crushed, so you will be able to use them again next time.

This is a lot of information. There are many things you can do to help make your trade show investment as successful as possible. Most companies will need to prioritize activities based on their budget and time available. If you only do one thing, make sure you have a solid follow-up plan in place.

The Kim Schlossberg Designs team can help you with any or all parts of your trade show plan.

Kim Schlossberg
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Kim Schlossberg created Kim Schlossberg Designs to help businesses and non-profits refine their messages and get them out to the right audience, in a clear, consistent, and integrated way. She provides strategic planning, execution and coordination of marketing, branding, and design by developing a deep understanding of clients’ businesses and their goals, and serves as a trusted advisor to help them grow their businesses and brand. Kim speaks to business and non-profit groups about marketing and related topics, and publishes a well-received (but slightly irregular) newsletter.

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