5 Ways to Maximize Your Tradeshow Presence

Friday, May 24, 2019

With the onslaught of virtual reality, in-person connections are still, if not more important for business owners and entrepreneurs. Tradeshows, industry conferences and other F2F (face-to-face) gatherings continue to drive sales, spread awareness, and engage audiences worldwide. But as a business owner, how do you make the most of this dynamic marketing channel?

At the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE), we recognize that entrepreneurs and small business owners are faced with a slew of unique challenges in today’s global marketplace. Your marketing strategy is constantly evolving and likely includes a range of tactics both in-person and digital.

As reported by CEIR: The Changing Environment of Exhibitions, 99% of marketers find value in exhibiting at tradeshows. The graphic to the right lists other key value-adds great for starting a business or growing to the next level.

Done right, tradeshows can be quite fruitful. But without proper planning, business owners are prone to wasting time and money. Whether you’re an attendee or exhibitor, below we discuss 5 Ways to Maximize Your Tradeshow Presence:

1. Define your goals
As any business owner knows, setting clear goals has substantial benefits all around. That’s no different for event marketing. Whether you are exhibiting or attending, it’s important to spend time before the event to consider: “What is your desired outcome?” or “What would need to happen for me to consider this a success?” The answers to those questions should inform all your other event prep activities.

Vendor vs. Attendee
Understanding what you want to achieve from the conference will help you make one of the first big event decisions: Should you exhibit as a vendor, sponsor a workshop, or simply attend as a guest?

The answer depends on your goal(s).

You may want to exhibit if you’re:
 - Announcing a new product
 - Looking to spread awareness about your brand
 - You want to gather audience feedback

On the other hand, attending is probably best if you:

 - Want to hear a particular speaker
 - Are there to gain knowledge
 - Seeking an update on industry trends

PRO TIP: As an attendee, be cautious not to overly promote yourself. Don’t bring anything more than a handful of business cards. And pass them out casually, ONLY if requested. Most event organizers and exhibitors will NOT appreciate if you’re outwardly promoting something without paying.

Eye on the Prize
During the event, people can feel overwhelmed with the flurry of conversations. That’s where those previously defined goals come in handy. They help you stay focused amidst all the activities.

It’s been shown that people who think about their goals are ~10 times more successful than people with no goals. When people write their goals down, the stat jumps to ~30 times!

Not only will goal-setting help you to prepare in advance, but having your goals already flushed out and top-of-mind, will empower you to make the most of unplanned interactions during the event.

The Bottom Line
Most entrepreneurs know a goal must be measurable, and tradeshow objectives are no different. When defining a goal, consider how you will measure it. Be sure you can quantify the results you hope to achieve.

If tradeshows are an important role in your marketing plan, there are even tools to calculate your event’s return on investment (ROI):

When striving to achieve a certain goal, you may realize you need a system or mechanism in place to capture the data required. For example, if you’re going to base success on increased website visitor traffic or app downloads, be sure you have Google Analytics in place and tested before the conference.

PRO TIP: Depending on what you’re measuring, you may need to take a baseline measurement before the event, so you can easily compare your results afterwards. Be sure to document it. And to optimize analysis later on, always gather more data than you think you’ll need.

2. Do your homework
Another step before the event day arrives, is to make sure you’ve done some advanced networking, and we don’t mean IT work. Whether you’re a sponsoring vendor this time, or just attending to work the room, there are ways to stoke the conversation before event day arrives.

Who’s Who
Review the attendee list and sponsoring companies. Consider who you know at those organizations and reach out with a friendly “see you at the conference!” note. Then, make a point to find them and connect onsite.

PRO TIP: If you’re exhibiting, most event organizers will provide you with a list of attendee names and/or business names. And if you’re attending, check the conference website and social media profiles to see who is sponsoring and presenting.

Conversation starters

Make note of mutual connections or other common topics. These are great conversation starters for when you meet face-to-face. Think about how these connections can help achieve the goals you previously defined, or maybe a common interest will spark some new ideas. Be open.

PRO TIP: Create a ‘Study Guide’ document, that includes the name AND a photo of any key people you want to engage with. The photo helps you identify them in person. Scope their LinkedIn profile or check the company’s “about us” webpage. Include key highlights or connection points that you’ll want to remember on the fly.

If you’re an exhibitor, think about your audience and what are some of the challenges they face. Then, consider how your product or service can help them solve that problem. This helps you visualize a conversation path, so you can share about your business without being too generic or overly promotional. In other words: Seek to help, first.

Join the social conversation
Often vendors and host committees will engage on social media in the days or weeks leading up to a big conference. Introduce yourself and your growing business. Other tips:

 - Ask questions
 - Offer information
 - Be enthusiastic
 - Stay open-minded

A huge player in the tradeshow space is Salesforce with their massive annual gathering #Dreamforce. Their event team has created substantial online buzz by leveraging social media to engage their audience. But beyond advertising, it enables social and business connections to occur pre, during and post conference.

Depending on the event team, the pre-event chatter can get lively so don’t miss out.

3. Have a contingency plan
Whether you’re growing a business, or sustaining a long-time family business, you already know things don’t always go as planned.

Many exhibitors have lost sleep worrying about the slew of details involved, from power delivery to printed materials. Even attendees run the risk of facing travel delays, illness, or schedule changes.

It’s important to stay flexible and agile because you can’t plan for everything. However, considering what might go wrong can help you prepare for what to do instead.

For exhibitors, preparing for the worst means:
 - Backup power sources
 - Files on USB
 - Extra printed materials & giveaways
 - Wi-fi hotspot
 - Extra power cords & chargers
 - Spare shirts in case of spills
 - Carry-on any items you can’t easily replace

Forbes wrote an article on improving tradeshow performance which includes a great list of other planning items, such as early arrival to track down packages and locating a nearby printer in case you need materials produced.

PRO TIP: If conferences or tradeshows are part of your ongoing strategy, create a Checklist Template for your “pre-event” and “post-event” activities. Then, if you’re at the event and you realize something was missed, add it to your Checklist Template for next time. By creating a continuous feedback loop, you can optimize the process every step of the way.

4. Get excited
Enthusiasm is contagious. So is a bad attitude. If you go into an event with a preconceived notion that it’s going to be negative in some way, then that will permeate into your interactions with others.

Huddle up
As Business.com highlighted, small business owners should make sure event team members are enthusiastic about the business, approachable and knowledgeable. Consider what training might be needed before hand. Align your team on key messaging and talking points.

PRO TIP: Develop your Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in 30-seconds or less. Focus on how you help your customer. Be sure to practice aloud beforehand so you’re comfortable with your pitch. Focus on having a casual, conversational tone of voice.

Don’t badmouth
It can happen when more seasoned professionals are amongst newer recruits. If you’re new to the scene, and you overhear negative chatter, that can have a bad influence on motivation and morale.

Those around you will feel that from you and it will put a dark cloud over your time spent and the potential to achieve your goals. Stay focused on the bright side and your positive energy will spread and act like a magnet, attracting new people and opportunities your way.

5. Keep the dialogue going
Even multi-day conferences can seem to quickly fly by. Smart business owners and entrepreneurs make a plan to keep the conversation going. Consider what specific actions or offers will give you a reason to stay in touch.

Creativity counts when it comes to follow-ups. Marketing Week reports that over 80% of tradeshow leads get followed up on after the show. That means in order to stand out, your contact should be personalized, unique and include a specific next step that is approachable and realistic.

PRO TIP: When someone gives you a business card, as soon as you can, write down a few key details about the encounter. After the event, this will help you recall next steps to pursue. Beyond exchanging business cards, download LinkedIn’s mobile app and suggest a connection. This social media platform is still alive and well, dedicated specifically to business networking.

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