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Make Your First Trade Show a Success

Business.com / Branding / Last Modified: April 17, 2018
Image credit: pcruciatti/Shutterstock

Never been to a trade show? No problem! This checklist will help you successfully prepare for and pull off your first show.

Your first trade show is coming up. You know there's lots to plan, but where do you start?

Take a deep breath and grab a pen. Below is a trade show checklist to increase your chances of a successful first event. This list is based on veteran team experience working with companies to prepare for hundreds of trade shows.

Gather a team and set a goal.

Trust me, you don't want to run a trade show booth alone.

Having a team of at least three people will help balance out your duties. If you're constantly scrambling back and forth, customers feel your urgency and fatigue. Having a team and being relaxed shows professionalism and puts out a welcoming vibe for your visitors.

It's also easy to lose track of why you are attending a trade show. The desired end result is to get more clients and yield a positive return on investment, but there's more to it. Set specific goals you wish to achieve (e.g., number of emails collected), other than just getting a positive ROI. This way you'll be able to better evaluate the level of success you had from your event participation.

Unite the team with a common dress code.

You’ll be given a name tag, but dressing in the same fashion will make it easy for visitors to identify your team.

Though it may seem a bit cliche to suggest a dress code, it has been proven to show unity among a team, which will give your visitors a sense of professionalism. Consider a comfortable dress code for the team, and, remember, you'll move around a lot, so dressing in a full suit or high heels probably won't cut it.

Clearly market your unique selling propositions.

First impressions matter, and you only have a few moments to show visitors why they should consider you.

Much like your website, your booth will be your temporary storefront. You'll want to immediately market the most enticing points about your products or services, or your current promotions. As your audience walks by, you only have seconds to grab their attention before they move onto the next booth.

Budget conservatively.

Going to a trade show can become very expensive very quickly.

Attending trade shows costs hundreds to thousands of dollars. Without proper budgeting, attending a trade show can put you in the negative. Consider your current cost per lead when budgeting for your trade show.

You can start off with printed banner stands, starting at $135 or a printed backwall, which starts at $699. Factor in the number of expected visitors and new leads generated from the event to allocate the cost per lead you'll want to dish out to booth visitors. 

Although the event can be a great success, the last thing you'll want is to put yourself at financial risk.

Create buzz using PR or social media.

Don' wait until the date of the trade show to promote yourself using press releases or social media.

A press release can be a great way to promote yourself online. Discuss the accomplishments achieved by your business along with your plans for participation in the event.

Popular PR sites include PRweb.com and PRnewswire.com, which charge fees for publishing and distributing your press releases.

When read by your customers, you'll be seen as an industry expert. Sharing this with your social media audiences can also create buzz, encouraging viewers to attend your event.

Bring lots of chairs.

Though it's better to stand up for most of the time, having some chairs can give your staff and customers some time to just relax.

One of our customers mentioned that she brings at least five to 10 chairs to every trade show they attend and not just for their staff. Visitors get fatigued walking around. When they see your chairs, they'll stop by, chat for a bit and sometimes that's just enough to earn yourself a new customer. You don't have to spend a lot of money, either. Folding chairs from IKEA do the job.

Ship your marketing materials directly to the venue.

If you're late purchasing your display materials, consider asking the vendor to ship the materials directly to your event location or the hotel where you'll be staying.

Generally, trade show back walls, displays or banner stands should take less than a week to produce and be delivered. If you're running late or worried the materials won't arrive before you leave, have them shipped directly to the event. You can ask the event coordinator for details on how to do this.

Arrive early to avoid the crowd.

Have you ever arrived at a grand opening only to find you have to spend hours waiting until the big moment?

Depending on how well organized the parking and event staff are, it can take a while before you can start putting up your booth and getting ready. 

Ask your team to arrive at least half an hour before the venue allows exhibitors to set up. After all, the quicker you're prepared for your event, the more time your staff has to either prepare for their duties or get some rest before a busy day.

Assign roles to each team member.

Assigning different roles to team members helps you stay organized and work efficiently.

With so much to do, you'll want to make sure each member knows what they're responsible for. This also helps you gauge the performance of each member and their overall contribution to the event. Duties like gathering email addresses or handing out business cards can have measurable results in the long run, and your team should be rewarded.

Don't rely on solely on tech.

This one's pretty straightforward. Tech can sometimes fail. Be ready in case it does. Bring backup materials, such as pencils, paper and a booklet for your portfolio. Relying only on tech can sometimes be disastrous. Imagine your iPad falls to the floor and shatters. 

Things happen, and you need to be prepared. Don't be left without presentation materials or essential items to accomplish your trade show goals.

Prepare appropriate lighting.

A brighter environment is often a more friendly environment.

Consider bringing an outdoor lamp post or LED lights to attach to your back walls. It's just natural for all living things to be attracted to light. Bright lights make your space feel bigger, while also keeping the environment warm and comfortable for visitors. LED lights on your backdrop can also make the colors and material pop out more, making for a more attractive display.

Stand out from the crowd.

All exhibitors at the trade show you're attending have similar goals as you. How will you stand out?

Mark Velarga, an expert in marketing from the Dot Direct group suggests that "using large text and good contrasts in color can make for an eye-popping design." He added, "Coming up with a game or interesting display with a small incentive can also draw crowds to your booth. It's important to display your logo as large as possible in your marketing display materials (back walls, banner stands, printed table runners) so visitors keep your brand in mind."

There are unlimited ways to stand out from the crowd, so keep your creative juices flowing.

Create an incentive to gather email addresses.

Getting an email address and consent to contact visitors is usually an unobtrusive way to get in contact with visitors after the event.

Of course, don't expect visitors to leave you their email address without some sort of reward. Offer either incentives of promotional value or inexpensive goodies as a gesture of good faith. Keep in mind that it's important not to offer so little as to insult a visitor. If the visitor sees no value in what you're offering, they will not be inclined to leave their email address.

Hold interactive or video-based seminars.

If you're at a trade show, your business has a lot to share with the industry.

Holding an interactive or video-based presentation or seminar can really draw in the crowd if you're offering value. With the popularity of YouTube and social media, the idea of self-empowerment and DIY-ing has risen considerably. Demonstrating your expertise in your field by holding a teaching or instructional session can not only draw in interested viewers but also establish your company as an expert in the field. Why not give it a try?

Have inexpensive but nifty (and useful) giveaways.

People love free stuff. When I attend a trade show, I'm always looking for branded canvas bags, calendars, wristbands and lanyards. When I see someone carrying something I don't have, I always ask, "Where did you get that?" A visitor (usually) points me in the direction of the booth in question.

Branded promotional items can be purchased from thousands of websites online ranging from a few cents to a few dollars each. Bags and lanyards are often reused, so it's a great way to remind visitors of your brand long after the trade show event.

Prepare event times for incentives.

Having a schedule for events and incentives encourages users to come back to your booth; that is, if your incentive or event provides a reasonable value.

Scheduling a specific time for your event gives your team time to prepare for it and ensure that the event is carried out successfully. If your event catches fire (not literally), your team may be scrambling to continue. Generally, customers are happy to come back to your event if it's worthwhile. 

Welcome everyone who comes near.

People love the right kind of attention. Welcoming and interacting with visitors is a friendly gesture. Invite individuals to check out what you have to offer.

Expect some rejection, but you'd be surprised how many visitors just need a friendly push in the right direction before really getting interested in your products or services. 

Utilize tech to draw in tech-savvy visitors.

Audiences of all ages are drawn in by tablets and TVs, and you can use this to your advantage.

We're in the digital age, and people can't seem to put their smartphones down. This same concept applto for your trade show event. Using tablets and TVs attracts audiences. If you're recording a visitor's name or email, don't write it on a notepad. Enter it directly into a tablet, or ask the visitor to enter it in themselves. The more interactive your booth is, the more visitors subconsciously wander in. 

Have a snack or water station.

Everyone gets hungry, and sometimes just having some water or snacks draws visitors in. Bottled water or spring water can be an easy and friendly gesture to invite visitors to your booth. Sometimes a little food is enough to make your visitors feel obligated to take an interest in your products, services and company. 

Prepare a portfolio of previous work.

What better way to show off than to show your previous work? Put together a quick binder of images, or, better yet, have an interactive slideshow or presentation to display some of your customers' products or services. Visitors may be better convinced when they see real proof of your worth in the industry.  

Network with other exhibitors.

There will always be more experienced exhibitors at the event, and you can learn a lot from how they handle their business.

Networking is always a great opportunity, and it's especially easy to meet new industry experts at trade shows. Don't enter the show feeling intimidated or too competitive. You never know when a competitor can become a great partner or inspiration.

Have one team member visit other booths to introduce your company and find out more about your competition. Understand what their advantages and value proposition are so you can use it to your benefit. The more up-to-date you are in industry knowledge, the more likely you are to succeed. 

Stay positive and motivated.

Last, you need to remember to stay positive. If you're attending your first trade show, there are always things that can go wrong. At the end of the day, if you remain positive about the outcome, your efforts, and your business, everything will work itself out. The moment you get flustered or demotivated is when your customers will feel the vibe and lose interest or trust in your business.

Good luck at your trade show!

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