For many small businesses, trade shows are make-or-break events. There’s the potential for big sales or big busts, and your business’s performance is based on your booth, your presentation, and your pitch to potential clients. With so much to think about, it can be overwhelming. That’s why we reached out to some trade show veterans to get their perspective on what first-timers should prepare for and expect at their first trade show.
Dan Williams | Product Manager of Foodservice, Oneida Foodservice
“Come prepared with plenty of cards and a backup battery to your mobile device. You’ll use each quite a bit.”
The amount of contacts that you will encounter cannot be understated. From a personal standpoint, realize that there are many networking and learning opportunities that show management has put together, don’t forget to visit to allot some time for those.
Georgette Blau | President, On Location Tours
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“Take notes on each company you meet with to schedule more appointments.”
I wish I would have known the simple idea of taking notes while I was in appointments; I simply collected business cards and listened to them, and sold them on our products, but didn’t take notes, so follow up was very tough! I also wish I would have known how to schedule appointments outside of the system, meaning the idea of cold “emailing” and cold calling potential clients in order to fill empty appointment spots.
Paige Hamilton | CEO & Head Designer, Paige Hamilton Design, Inc.
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“Keep that booth simple.”
As designers, we are built to notice every minute detail. What color to “paper” the walls of the booth? Are the displays equidistant? Here’s a tip: buyers don’t care. Furthermore, they’re trade show pros with limited time on their hands, so the focus should be on your product, not the overarching aesthetic. And yet, at the same time, make your booth unique and step up the basic white tablecloth backdrop with a more original look.
Melissa Reed | Owner, Packable Pails
“Ship your display and products ahead of time to make for a smooth entrance and exit.”
We didn’t realize it was common practice and basically a necessity at large trade shows to ship your display and products ahead of time to make for a smooth entrance and exit. We learned and had a much less stressful event at the Surf Expo in Orlando.
Shevy M. Shafie | CEO and Chief Marketing Officer of Marstudio
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“Create a clear, visual elevator pitch.”
One of my mottos is “Go big or go home.” We knew we’d be competing for attention during HIMSS, which meant we had to maximize the branding and impact of our booth. We designed that space so it acted as a visual elevator pitch. It looked just as if you were standing in front of our studio, and it incorporated our top-line messaging. As people walked by and looked at our stuff, they said, “Oh you do marketing, you do print, you do branding!” Our clear, visual message made an immediate impression.
Beverly Solomon | Creative Director, Beverly Solomon Design
“Stay sober and avoid the moral lapses that often occur at such shows when reps are away from home.”
You can have fun without making a fool of yourself. What happens in Vegas usually ends up being plastered all over your hometown. So be good.
Margaret Colebeck | Marketing Associate, Vantage Advertising
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“Trade show exhibitors need to stay active and engaged in order to build up their brand and become a notable exhibitor of the trade show.”
Almost every trade show has its own Twitter handle and hashtag and attendees actively use them. New trade show exhibitors that don’t tap into the social media conversation before, during, and after the trade show are losing out on building business relationships and closing sales. But, it’s not simply enough to tap into the conversation and then leave. Exhibitors should contribute available information that benefits attendees and enriches the conversation.
Robin Kelman | Executive Vice President, Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations
“Get plenty of sleep and wear comfortable shoes – it’s going to be a long day.”
No matter what the trade show, you will be speaking with several people throughout the day. You will want to be at your best. Long days can also turn into long nights of entertaining clients as well. It’s important to be well rested so you can endure.
Lily Ryan | Marketing Coordinator, Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd
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“It’s often the little things that are overlooked.”
No matter how small or insignificant it may seem at the time, you really do need to be prepared. Had I have known that the walls of our booth were fabric rather than card, I would have saved myself a lot of stress on that first day.
Janet Perry | Founder, Napa Needlepoint
“Keep your cards plus a pen in one pocket and reserve the other pocket for other people’s cards.”
Always have a pen near your cards if you need to write something on the back, so you never have to rifle through tons of cards or embarrassingly give a person someone else’s card.
Kari DePhillips | Owner, The Content Factory
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While Reddit is usually seen as a website for killing time, it’s also a great site for networking, and many professionals discuss their work lives on Reddit. Likewise, Reddit tends to be a hub for marketing, meaning that if a conference is being mentioned on Reddit, it’s probably worth your time to show up, as at the very least there will be a built-in PR stream for you to take advantage of. As an extra note, make sure you write down the usernames and subreddits that discuss the trade show you’re researching — that way you can get a head start on your Reddit marketing efforts once you come home.
Nancy A. Shenker | CEO, theONswitch
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“Exhibitors should ensure that they train the team before they get on the road, giving them sufficient time to study-up and role play various sales scenarios.”
Booth duty is sometimes assigned to people who do not have direct contact with customers or are not thoroughly familiar with products and services. Before going to a trade show, exhibitors can stage a fun role play practice, in which more seasoned people pretend to be customers and less experienced staff can practice answering questions. I also recommend that exhibitors walk the trade show floor before the show begins, assess similar booths, and prepare themselves to talk about how their offering is superior to their competitors, without being specific or defensive.