How to Survive Your First Trade Show

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of:

Trade shows are crucial for many businesses because they offer opportunities for networking and marketing. While they can be overwhelming, they’re also easy to manage by keeping a few tips in mind. This guide will help you navigate your first trade show and may provide insight on how to go about managing your 109th.

1. Map it out 

Before going to set-up your booth, it is important to understand where you are located on the floor in respect to major “landmarks”. Make sure to print off a map of the floor plan with the entrances, exits, parking spots, booth numbers, and designated food areas. This will help you to stay organised, with minimal stress during set-up and navigation. Additionally, doing so will help you plan your marketing approach to both guests and vendors who should all be considered potential clients. The floor plan may be provided by the organiser, or can be found on the venue website.

2. Get well-acquainted with your audience and what you would like to offer based on the demographics of the attendees

Know the ins and outs of your products and services well before even stepping foot into the trade show venue. You have to understand, and potentially even be capable of reciting in your sleep, all that you and your company have to offer. Making a list of potential questions you can foresee coming up is a good way of preparing. You will also be able to cover the information much more comprehensively by creating a brief script in case you forget something, or get stuck (sorry; more work, but this works very well).

3. Make your exhibit/booth attractive and interactive 

Nobody wants to be preached at every two steps they take. To engage people and lure them into your booth, add something interactive. For example, a spinning wheel with prizes such as freebies and coupons is a sure-fire way to draw people’s attention. An interesting set-up specific to your own company that people can engage with would work well. Take, for example, a company that always uses a certain prop in their commercials and other promotional materials. By bringing the prop to the trade show, not only do you offer another chance for the attendees to recognise your brand and draw connections with your products and previous marketing campaigns, but you also draw them in with something that is unique to your company or organisation. Think of different ways you can create interaction, but also pertains to what you are promoting. Other examples include Trivia games, contests, and tactile objects people can pick-up and play with. All of these would be effective in drawing passersby to your booth without you having to aggressively bring them in.

4. Hand-out eye-catching freebies 

If you’ve been to trade shows before, you probably have an unnamed drawer somewhere specifically designated for pens from company X, Y, and Z. While pens are great and functionally purposeful, they can easily get bland and over-done. Instead, opt for something that will be eye-catching for people walking by. One easy, inexpensive example is a flashing magnetic light that can be put on a suit lapel, name tag, and even an ear lobe (but act with caution because trade shows don’t offer health insurance). Other great freebies include food or drinks, for example, popcorn made from a popcorn machine. This type of freebie will attract anyone and everyone under the sun, and is great as a conversation starter. Additionally, the smell will attract people to your booth even though it may be farther away (think of this as a larger radius-reaching marketing strategy).

5. Stretch and invest in floor mats 

Before even attempting to embark on this networking journey, do not forget to put stretching in your skill set. Your limbs need to be limber in preparation for setting up your booth and standing all day. Because you will be talking to people, you will most likely be stationary for the majority of the time. To mediate any potential negative consequences standing may have on your back or feet, try to find some rubber or foam mats, or even carpet to put on the floor of your booth. Something like this would work well.

6. Have a jar for business cards

Create a label to put on a designated jar for collecting attendee business cards. This is probably the most important point in this list because it is what you are at the trade show to do: NETWORK. You may not have enough time to allocate to each person that approaches your booth, but can gain a lot of traction post-trade show if you collect business cards and have a great follow-up process, which takes us to our final tip…

7. Follow-up 

Follow-up with everyone who left their business card in your jar. When you have more time after the trade show, create a mail merge with a succinct, follow-up message to all of the people who left a business card at your booth. Be sure to check your region’s laws in regards to soliciting and e-mailing any potential clients. For example, in Ontario you may not e-mail anyone without their permission. When people drop-off their cards in a jar it counts as obtaining nonverbal permission. This allows you to remain well within your legal rights, while also gaining potential clients from the trade show.

What you make of the trade show is directly proportional to how well you prepare beforehand, how much energy you bring on the day/s of, and how well you follow-up afterwards. You must look at the entire event as a great networking opportunity; be open to others and you’ll meet wonderful people, as well as fantastic organisations. By employing a bit of foresight, as well as developing a few marketing strategies, you can make your first – or 109th, as I’ve promised – trade show a great success. Think about what you have to offer, the needs of the attendees, as well as previous strategies that have worked. Also, remember to explore the other booths at the trade show because they may provide good insight into how other people are advertising their businesses.

Lastly, enjoy it all because this is just another opportunity to get out of the office, out of a cubicle, and do something different and exciting!

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