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7 Tips for Making the Most of Trade Shows

Trade shows—they’re your time to shine. It’s not every day that you get an opportunity to so readily showcase your services or products to hundreds or even thousands of hungry consumers, so there’s nothing more important than wowing the entire exhibit hall with your brand’s cutting-edge charm.

You might be wondering, How am I supposed to manage such a massive event and bend it to my own will? Fear not. Trade shows aren’t so difficult to tame and use to your advantage—you just have to know how to make the most of them.

1. Start at the beginning

Don’t get so involved in the excitement of strategizing for your trade show premier that you forget about the most important decision of all. Take a step back. All the way back. That’s right, start at the beginning.

Thoughtfully choose which trade shows and conferences you’re going to attend. The sheer number of them can be overwhelming, and some shows are going to bring more benefit to your business than others. Research, reach out to conference organizers with questions and concerns (and to introduce yourself, because having friendly staff connections both before and during the event can never hurt), and create a financial plan.

Registration fees, travel fees, and lodging fees should all play a role in helping you to decide which shows to attend. If the exposure you’ll receive and the connections you’ll make won’t be enough to outweigh attendance costs, reconsider.

2. Registered? Great! Now Prepare!

You’ve registered for a show? Nice! Now start preparing early. Yes, you heard me—your work begins long before the convention hall opens and the attendees start pouring in. Perhaps you’ve heard of the age-old adage, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” You never know who you might meet or what high-stakes investor could make an appearance at your booth, and it’s moments like these you’ll need to be thoroughly ready for.

Strategize. Practice. Get creative with your booth design. Purchase advertising materials early. There’s absolutely nothing worse than panicking days before a conference because your signage or business cards haven’t arrived.

3. Social Media Strategies are a must!

If you’re not already taking advantage of social media, now is the time to do so. Setting up social media accounts such as Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook pages will not only put you on the radar for those who are planning ahead to decide which vendors they’ll visit, but these accounts will also provide you with an additional platform to communicate with potential clients you meet at the show. Establishing a social media presence that you include on your business cards encourages engagement and is an effective way to establish your brand before you’ve even set up your booth.

Most importantly, making sure that your social media is in tip-top shape will ensure that your new contacts can “like” and follow you on the go, improving your chances that they’ll follow up with you at a later date and not just forget your business card in their pants until after they’ve gone through the wash.

4. Get Proud, loud and stand out!

Trade shows are not the time to retreat into the corner of your booth. Instead, stay standing. Get excited. Make eye contact with passers-by and smile! Make sure your sales reps are more prepared and readier than ever to strike up conversations and make connections. If this means holding special training and practice sessions to fully equip your reps with all the tools they need, the time spent will be well worth the investment.

During your preparations, encourage your reps (and yourself) to be proactive rather than reactive when engaging with the crowd. Don’t wait for people to come to you. Go to them. Walk the floor with brochures and useful merchandise like pens, sunglasses, or branded water bottles. Point interested parties in the direction of your booth, where they can speak to your colleagues.

5. There is more than just the floor

Stay as active off the floor as you are on the floor! While you won’t want to spend all of your precious convention time away from your booth, attending conference sessions and organized events throughout the show is a fantastic way to take advantage of your time.

6. Check out your neighbors

Remember, trade shows aren’t just about new clients or shaking hands with the biggest names and VIPs. Think outside the box and make the most of other interactions, too. The American Marketing Association reminds us that trade shows are the perfect place to scope out the competition.

Take some notes and learn from big names in the industry. Maximize the many opportunities to engage with new talent—believe it or not, trade shows can be a great place to hold impromptu interviews with those who have a resume ready to go. Connect with the press for a chance at a special feature. Collect feedback from existing consumers and use the opportunity to have candid discussions about how you can improve. As you can see, the opportunities for communication are endless when you think beyond a sales point of view.

7. You aren't done when the lights turn off.

Just as trade show work began long before the conference dates, the work will ensue for a long time afterward. In fact, it’s downright dangerous to consider the show dates as standalone entities which require your engagement, because you’ll reap the real benefits after your booth is packed up and you’re back home in your pajamas (possibly fighting jet lag).

Follow through in order to maximize long-term relationships. Attend a single trade show or conference and you’ll know within only a few hours that making friends is the name of the game. You’ll talk to a ton of people, you’ll collect pockets full of business cards, and you may feel overwhelmed. Regardless, follow up with each and every prospect. Be timely, friendly, and personal. Establish a relationship with the long run in mind.

The bottom line is that the ROI from attending a trade show or any other event is entirely up to you. You’re in control of how much you spend to attend a show, and you’re in control of how you take advantage of the time and space you’ve paid for. With careful planning and a smart, energetic presence at your booth and beyond, you’ll find success. It’s all a matter of preparation and, of course, having some fun.