Trade shows and conferences give entrepreneurs an opportunity to showcase our products and businesses to our target market and beyond. These events bring entire industries together; packing a lot of potential business and growth into a single room or exhibit hall.
I recently traveled to Amsterdam for METSTRADE, the world's largest marine equipment trade show. After shipping product, travel expenses, time spent traveling, exhibit space costs, and other related expenses, this single event turned into a significant investment.
To help you make the most out of exhibiting at a show without regretting your investment, here are nine ways to get more out of your next event or trade show, created with the help of one of the many valuable connections and friends I've made at an Inc. event, Nuphoriq Co-Founder and CCO Jamie Pritscher.
Don't Treat it as "Work"
Imagine you train for an important marathon for months, but at the starting line, you're only thinking about work and the things you have to do at home. If you're mind isn't in it, you simply can't give your best.
When I'm at a booth, I'm tuned into my surroundings and present in the moment. I keep any paperwork or other day-to-day tasks back at the hotel or even back at the office so I can fully disconnect and take advantage of every opportunity right in front of me. If you're texting someone from the office or working on a stack of papers, people won't think you're accessible to come and talk to. If you must take care of business outside of what is happening in the booth, find someone to cover for you and take a break to a business center or lobby.
Weigh Costs vs. Realistic Value
Predicting the value one event can have on your business can be very difficult. However, you can predict costs, and if you do your homework (ask event planners, talk to previous exhibitors), you can come up with a realistic list of expectations.
Jamie Pritscher: "Our first tradeshow out we thought we would book tons of new clients on the spot. However, people don't go to a catering trade show expecting to buy marketing services (they look for equipment, food, etc.) and there is a very long sales cycle in this industry. Not booking clients at the show made us think we were doing something wrong. Now five shows later, we get it! It's not about booking the sale right then and there, it's about brand awareness, making meaningful connections and planting the seed that people may need help with what you provide."
You should never travel to a conference just to sit behind a table and camp out in your hotel room. There is value to be gained that extends far beyond your exhibit booth or table, and you can gain it by just having fun. Attend receptions, group activities, lectures, after-hours meetups, and networking opportunities.
I have formed new partnerships, acquired new customers, developed friendships, and found mentors through the networking opportunities at these events. They have been by far the one of the most valuable aspects of events for me and my business.
Study and Prepare
The more you know about an event, the more opportunities you'll recognize. One of the first things I do once the layout of an event is finalized is locating where my booth will be and learning about what booths will be close by, location of the bathrooms, refreshment and information stands, and how to get to exhibit and presentation locations from where my booth will be.
If you're near an entrance or the end of an aisle, knowing your surroundings will come in handy when visitors ask you questions. Being a resource to help make their experience as enjoyable as possible is beneficial to your brand even if they aren't an immediate customer.
I also try to participate on show committees and boards. Getting involved often gains you access to exclusive opportunities and helps you to become familiar with other exhibitors, organizers, and attendees.
Bring Your Notepad
Jamie Pritscher: "Take Notes! There is a lot of traffic at events, which means a lot of conversations. We started taking notes a few minutes immediately following a conversation.
What did you talk about? What follow up did you say you were going to send? You may think you are going to remember, but the truth is, you will forget. If you remember all of the details and truly follow up on a conversation or what you said you were going to do, you will make a lasting impression."
Events in which we exhibit at a booth or two have by far been our biggest months of social media growth due to using tags and sharing pictures and information from the event.
Jamie Pritscher: "You can use social and event hashtags to encourage people to stop at your booth. You can also use social media channels to thank people for stopping by your booth by simply finding them on Twitter and tagging them. EX: Thanks @TastyCatering for stopping to see us #CSES16! We enjoyed the conversation about website analytics."
Create Alliances with Other Exhibitors
You are not competing with the other exhibitors in attendance, you are partners. Take the time to meet them. Learn about their business, what they have to offer, and tell them about what you provide.
When speaking with guests at your booth, you can use this information to refer them to other booths, and because other booths now know what you have to offer and what you're looking for, they will be able to return the favor.
Create a Welcoming Booth
"Create a welcoming booth and a space for people to sit down and take a break. Trade show floors are huge and can get tiring. By creating a welcoming space with places to sit, you can get people to stay in your booth longer," Jamie says.
Cater your booth to the event and the customers you are targeting. When exhibiting at METSTRADE mentioned above, our booth was in the superyacht pavilion, where customers appreciate the finer things. I created a nice intimate setting where I could comfortably talk with them one-on-one. We also offered refreshments, providing a nice opportunity for them to re-charge during their visit. Remember to cater to the preferences of your customers rather than just creating an atmosphere that you feel you would like.
Know Your Limits and Plan Accordingly
At these types of events and exhibitions, there will be more events to attend and people to meet than is physically possible. Enjoying the event is one thing, but pushing yourself to your breaking point by staying up until 2 a.m. when you're not an early bird is a good way to burn out. The day or days you spend at an event are often more important than normal days at the office. You have to do everything in your power to not push beyond your limits, especially if you are relying on yourself to serve as the only exhibitor. Choose wisely and be responsible so you are able to be at your best the entire show.
If you're new to exhibiting, attend the event you wish to participate in if possible so you know what to expect, or get a couple of smaller events under your belt before spending thousands of dollars and many hours on a large and important trade show. Trade shows are hard work, but very valuable if chosen and executed correctly.