Trade shows are full of opportunities. They bring so many potential clients, business partners and investors together in one space. They’re great for growing awareness of your brand, gaining insight from customers, promoting your products and services and getting leads. They pay off, too. U.S. companies earned $12.81 billion from trade shows in 2016.
And all you have to do is show up, set up a booth and let the money roll in, right?
The truth is, how you approach a trade show has a massive impact on how much you get out of it. With so much going at these events, though, getting it right can feel overwhelming — especially if it’s your first show.
With the right trade show tips to help you prepare, you can attend the event with confidence. Here’s what to do if you’re going to your first trade show.
Five Steps to Preparing for a Trade Show
The process of getting ready for a trade show starts months before the actual event.
As a general rule, you should aim for getting started two to three months in advance. Register as early as you can to take advantage of early bird rates and to give yourself as much time as possible to prepare. For any given task, leave yourself twice as much time as you think you need. It’s always better to overestimate than underestimate.
1. Do Your Research
Once you’ve registered, watch your email, as well as social media accounts associated with the event, for updates and special offers. Keeping an eye on these communications before the show can give you an edge when it comes time to attend.
Also, look into who is attending the show. Trade shows often provide these lists, either for free or for a small fee. Knowing this ahead of time will give you a better idea of what to expect and help you schedule your time optimally.
2. Assemble Your Team
Build your team based on the information you get before the show. While you don’t want to spend too much money on entry tickets and travel, make sure you bring enough people to have someone at your booth and someone at important events such as presentations and networking luncheons.
You’ll also want to make sure your team’s knowledge and skills complement each other. You might need people with technical knowledge about your product, sales experience, experience with giving interviews to the press, as well as other roles.
3. Spread the Word
Do everything you can to spread the word about your attendance at the event. Use social media, email, your website and any other forms of communication you typically use.
And start early! Around 76 percent of trade show attendees use pre-show information to plan their experience. You want to catch these folks early so they can fit your exhibit into their schedules. Doing pre-show marketing can also boost the number of booth visitors you convert to qualified leads by 50 percent. Use your booth number in your promotional materials so people can find you more easily.
4. Create a Schedule
Trade shows are a busy time, so create your team’s schedule before you go. You might need to be a bit flexible, but mapping things out in advance can keep you from missing out on opportunities. Schedule your time in such a way that someone is always working your exhibit and you can attend the extra events that will have the most benefit for you. Contact other attendees that you want to meet with, in advance, so you can fit into each other’s schedules.
You want to maximize your opportunities, but you also need to avoid the temptation to overwork yourself. If you’re exhausted, you won’t be able to take full advantage of them anyway, so make sure you plan for some time to relax and recharge.
5. Personal Preparation
In addition to preparing your team and your exhibit, you’ll also want to get yourself ready. Brush up on your product knowledge, elevator pitch and anything else you might need. Go over the essential information with your team so everyone is on the same page.
As far as clothing goes, you’ll want to dress appropriately for the event. Many event organizers will provide you with a dress code. If they don’t, look at pictures from previous years. While you want to look professional, make sure you’re also relatively comfortable — you’ll likely spend a lot of time walking around the event space.
In the days leading up to the show and especially the night before, you should ensure that you’re mentally and physically prepared. Get an adequate amount of sleep, eat healthy food, drink plenty of water and do things that help you de-stress and get “in the zone.”
How to Set Up a Trade Show Exhibit: Creating Your Presence and Experience
Your trade show exhibit will play a crucial role in how successful your experience at the event is. It’s often responsible for the first impression people have of your company and it’s where people go to get more information about you. You want it to attract visitors while also conveying your brand’s personality. It needs to be aesthetically pleasing but also practical. So how can you meet all these criteria and create the perfect trade show booth?
1. Define Your Goals
Knowing what you want to accomplish at the trade show will help you to design a space you’re happy with. Make defining your goals the first thing you do regarding your exhibit. Then, keep those objectives in mind as you go through the design process.
People attend trade shows for many reasons, but the top three goals are:
- Increasing sales
- Increasing brand awareness
- Enhancing product knowledge
Also, decide whether you want your booth to attract large crowds or a smaller amount of highly-qualified leads. Do you want people to pass by quickly and grab informational materials or hang out and chat? These objectives will drive your decision-making moving forward.
2. Keep Your Branding in Mind
In addition to your goals, you need to keep your branding in mind throughout this entire process — especially if brand awareness is a primary goal. Even if your focus is on another target, you still need to make sure you’re conveying your brand accurately to avoid confusion and trouble down the road. Create an exhibit that communicates your brand’s personality and uses your logo and other brand materials wisely.
3. Understand Your Space
Get as much information about your space as you can, ahead of time, and use this knowledge when designing your booth.
You’ll need to know the size of the “footprint” you’ve been allotted, naturally, but it can also be helpful to know what part of the event space you’re in. If your booth is in a remote corner, for example, you might want to create an exhibit that’s a bit more eye-catching. You can even try to figure out who will be next to you and what their display might look like so you can avoid doing something similar that causes you to blend in rather than stand out.
4. Think Outside the Box
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your booth design!
While there’s nothing wrong with going a more traditional route, coming up with a unique idea can make more people want to visit your booth and help your brand stick in the minds of visitors. Don’t worry too much if you can’t find the items you need ready-made. You can order custom display pedestals, boxes, cases and other supplies from Pedestal Source.
5. Offer Giveaways
Giveaways are a staple of the trade show — and a good one can make your booth much more attractive to visitors. The amount of focus you put on giveaways, as well as the type of items you offer, will depend on your goals. One helpful bit of trade show advice is to provide something that will be of use to attendees, such as pens or t-shirts.
You might also give visitors special offers such as discount codes, coupons and special deals if they sign up for your email list. Consider holding a raffle or another type of contest to generate some excitement. It’s even better if you can work additional promotion into your competition, such as having contestants enter by using a particular hashtag on Twitter or wearing your brand’s t-shirt to an event.
6. Make It Homey
If you want people to spend more time at your booth so you can have more in-depth conversations, make your exhibit area a welcoming space and include something that gives visitors a reason to stick around. You could set up seating, which people will appreciate after spending hours walking around the event floor. You can also set up a charging station with outlets and phone chargers so people can recharge their devices while replenishing their own figurative batteries.
7. Display Brochures and Business Cards
Once you draw visitors in with your giveaways or other incentives, you’ll want to hit them with some more in-depth information about your organization. Much of this will come from the conversations you have with people, but also be sure to provide brochures, business cards and other informational materials. Display these items somewhere people can see them once they approach the booth. You might also try to make them engaging — perhaps by putting a question on the cover of your pamphlet. If someone wants to know the answer, they’ll either pick up the item or ask you.
8. Secure Expensive Items
On a more logistical note, make sure you bring the supplies necessary to lock up expensive items, such as laptops, if need be. This could be something as simple as a small lock and a cable that wraps around the leg of a table. Being prepared with these supplies will be helpful if you have to leave your booth unexpectedly. If something comes up, you can attend to it without much worry.
9. Remember Assembly and Transportation
In the excitement of creating the perfect exhibit, it’s easy to forget that you need to figure out how to get your display to the event. Will you drive it there? Do you need to ship it? You’ll need to consider transportation needs when designing your trade show exhibit. You’ll often have to assemble parts of your booth at the event and take it down again afterward.
The solution is to look for items that are easy to transport as well as set up and tear down — such as collapsible display pedestals.
10. Arriving and Setting Up Your Exhibit
Once you arrive at the event, it’s time for the art of setting up your booth. You should show up early with the goal of being completely ready at least an hour before the show begins. This will give you time to ensure everything’s in order and deal with any setbacks, plus help you avoid unnecessary stress and accomodate the inevitable early birds.
11. Have a Flexible Plan
You should have a plan in place for setting up your booth that your whole team is on board with. There is no exact science concerning how to set up a trade show exhibit, though, so you’ll need to allow for some flexibility. You want to be able to adjust to any new information you get after arriving at the show and deal with changing conditions. Everything from scheduling mixups to severe weather can throw a wrench into your plans.
This can be one of the most challenging aspects of trade shows for beginners, but with practice and the right mindset, you’ll get it down.
12. Prioritize Interaction
When setting up your booth, avoid letting your team get lost in all of the signage, gadgets and other aspects of your exhibit. Have your employees sit in a place where they can get people’s attention and connect with them. Even if people want to talk to you, they likely won’t go too far out of their way to do it. It’s up to you to make yourself accessible. You might even want to stand out in front of your booth so you can greet people as they walk by.
13. Prominently Display Your Main Attraction
Put whatever your main attraction is — the thing that will draw people to your booth — in plain view. Whether it’s a giveaway, a creative display or a charging station, make sure everyone can see it easily. That way, it will do its job of pulling people in.
14. Make Information Accessible
Once your main attraction has drawn the visitor in, it’s time for the meat and potatoes of the message you want people to get. Whether that information comes from a brochure, a video or a human representative, make sure people can easily get the message once they approach your booth.
15. Make Closing the Sale Easy
After the visitor gets the information, you want them to move on to completing the action you want them to take, such as adding their name to your email list or trading business cards with you. If getting email subscribers is your goal, for instance, lay the email sign-up sheet right behind your informational material.
This step often involves a conversation with one of your team members, so make sure they’re able to readily strike up with a discussion with someone who’s made it past the info stage. Think of it as a mini sales funnel where visitors move from the main attraction to getting more information and then, eventually, to taking action. Set up your exhibit to support that flow.
16. Create a Detailed Schedule
Before the trade show starts, refer back to your schedule and make any necessary adjustments. Ensure that someone is at your booth at all times and that you maximize your potential without wearing yourself out. Remember that flexibility is crucial and that you may need to alter your plan slightly as things change.
Eight Ways to Engage in Networking at Trade Shows
Networking, of course, is another key aspect of trade shows. The connections you make there will be some of the most valuable things you take away. They’re primarily what your exhibit and other functions of the event are there to support. Here’s how to make the most out of opportunities for networking at trade shows:
1. Make the First Move
This is especially true when you’re at your booth, but it can also apply to other parts of a trade show. Smile and say “Hello!” to everyone you reasonably can that walks by your booth. Doing so is often the difference between meeting your goals and missing your opportunity. Also, don’t be afraid to start up conversations with people at meet-and-greets, by the coffee station or, well, pretty much anywhere! A majority of the people at these events are looking to network, too.
2. Be Friendly and Have Fun
Your attitude has a lot to do with how successful your trade show experience is. Smile at people and engage them with questions. Maintain an open posture by keeping your arms uncrossed and facing people you’re speaking with directly. While you always want to remain professional, be sure to have some fun, too!
3. Bring Lots of Business Cards
People always want to exchange business cards at trade shows, so make sure you bring plenty of them. They’ve become so expected that not having business cards can make people think you’re unprofessional. You should have business cards at your booth and you should keep some on your person so people you meet at networking events and other functions can get in contact with you directly.
4. Engage on Social Media
In addition to engaging face-to-face with people, you should also reach out on social media. Often, trade shows will have dedicated hashtags. Use them to get more visibility for your posts and connect with fellow attendees and event organizers. Engage other attendees with comments and tags. Document the event through social media so that even people who couldn’t attend get an idea of what’s going on. You could also even create your own hashtag associated with your brand that you encourage people to use.
5. Attend Events
While having someone at your booth at all times is important, so is attending other events at the trade show, such as presentations and networking events. Attending these events can help you to learn more and meet people in a more personal environment, helping you to make better connections.
6. Take Lead Notes
You’ll probably end up talking to a lot of different people when you attend one of these events. Take notes so you can remember who’s who later. People will be impressed if you remember details about your conversation with them — and a personalized email is more likely to get a reaction. Make notes on business cards, on your laptop or wherever is most convenient and helpful, but make sure you have a system for keeping all of this information conveniently organized.
7. Follow Up Afterward
The networking isn’t over when the event is. Reach out to people you meet at the show in the coming days — even if it’s just to thank them for stopping by your booth. They likely also met a lot of folks at the event, so keep the relationship alive by reaching out with a personalized note post-show and following up appropriately if they show interest in becoming a customer or working with your company.
8. Become a Speaker
This one might be a bit of a stretch goal, especially for your first trade show. If you can swing it, though, the reward can be enormous.
If you can become a speaker at a trade show event, even a small one, you’ll make many more meaningful connections. People will instantly see you as an authority in your field and you’ll likely have many different people come up to you. You don’t have to become an official presenter to see these benefits, however. Even asking a question at someone else’s event can help you stand out from the crowd.
Seven Ways to Solicit Trade Show Feedback and Plan for Next Time
Once the whirlwind of the trade show is over, it’s time to evaluate your experience. These insights will help inform your future trade show visits:
1. Survey Visitors
The people who visited your booth are an excellent source of trade show feedback. You can either have a survey at your booth or send one out afterward. If you have one at your exhibit, you could make it paper or digital and include a raffle or other incentive to encourage people to take it. You could send one out via email or another means to people who gave you their contact information at the show.
This is your chance to ask what they liked and didn’t like about your display, what information they took away from it and anything else related to your goals.
2. Debrief With Staff
The next step is to sit down with staff and have them share their views on the experience. Getting these varied perspectives can give you unique insights that will help you make improvements for trade shows to come. Ask your team members:
- What did we do that worked well and what needs improvement?
- Did you meet your goals? Why or why not?
- What did you like and dislike about other exhibitors’ booths? What ideas can we take inspiration from and what should we avoid in the future?
- What value did you get from attending this trade show, both personally and for the company? What was missing?
- What did you like and dislike about the trade show itself?
3. Evaluate Your Return on Investment
Another helpful source of feedback is the data. What data you check will depend on your goals. You might look at how many new leads you collected, how much engagement on social media you had, how many people signed up for a free trial or how many sales you made. You won’t have all of this data right away, as it takes some time for leads to become customers, but you may be able to get a good idea.
Then, evaluate the return on investment, or ROI, of attending the trade show. Did you get back what you put in through sales, potential sales or increased brand awareness? This can be difficult to measure and it can take a long time to see results. You might not even break even until you attend multiple trade shows. Over time, though, if you follow these tips, you’ll likely find that the investment was well worth it.
4. Setting Goals
Once you’re done preparing for, attending and evaluating your first trade show experience, it’s time to start preparing for your next one! It might seem early, but completing this step while your first experience is fresh in your mind will help make it much more efficient and successful.
5. Look Into Future Trade Shows
First off, you’ll have to decide whether you’re going to attend another trade show in the future. In rare cases, you might decide it’s not worth it or that your organization isn’t quite ready. Chances are good, though, that you’ll want to go to another one sometime in the future. If that’s case, write down what you want in a trade show. Use this information to drive your decisions about attending future shows. Then, start researching opportunities.
6. Reevaluate Your Goals
At this point, you should also take a look at the goals you set for that first show. You might decide to stick with those same objectives for the next show or you might want to update them. Either way, write down those goals and make sure they’re measurable and attainable and that they line up with your overall business strategy. Then, create a detailed plan for achieving your targets.
7. Check Back In
As you get more information about the results of your first trade show experience, revisit your evaluations and goals. You might find that more of your leads converted than you initially estimated or that a promising contact might have finally responded to your emails. These things take time, so you’ll have to adjust your views and goals as new information comes to light.
Take Everything You Learned and Start Again!
When that next trade show rolls around, it’s time to start the process all over again! Review the notes from your first show and apply the lessons learned to your next adventure. With your first show experience under your belt, you can approach the next one with more confidence and know-how.
With these tips in mind, you can attend your first trade show with confidence. Another way to give yourself an edge is working on your exhibit with a company that has extensive trade show experience. Pedestal Source is a one-stop shop for expertly designed and built trade show booths, walls and hardware as well as displays, pedestals, showcases and more.
We offer custom design and logistics to help meet your organization’s unique needs as well as helpful customer service, quick turnaround time and flexible shipping options. Browse our trade show products here and fill out a quick online quote form to get a response within 24 hours on business days. And, as always, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have along the way.