You're at your first tradeshow. The booths are dazzling, industry bigwigs are here in the flesh, and potential partners are prime for the picking.
Tradeshows can feel overwhelming, especially if you're there representing a startup or you're otherwise new to shows. Unless, of course, you have a few tips and tricks up your sleeve.
Luckily, you know exactly what you need to do to make a fantastic impression thanks to an article you read about nailing your first tradeshow...
1. Promote the event like you're the host
In the weeks and even months leading up to a tradeshow, actively promote the show and your booth.
Driving visitors to your booth at a tradeshow is a great way to get people who otherwise wouldn't know about the show to attend. And boosting the number of attendees at a tradeshow specifically because you informed others about it increases your chances of heavy traffic at your booth.
If you can afford it, consider even paying for passes for your top customers or the leads you really want to convert.
2. Set goals for your company
The key to a successful tradeshow is the amount of preparation you do beforehand. As soon as you know you're attending a tradeshow, start making plans. Plan in detail—from how you're going to get there to what promotional items you're going to offer at your booth.
When you arrive at a tradeshow completely prepared—with freshly printed business cards, a fully charged smart phone, and dressed in your entrepreneurial best—you'll feel and act more confident when speaking to important connections. Exuding a sense of strength, calm, and quiet energy go a long way toward convincing others your brand is a force to be reckoned with.
First, outline your goals for the tradeshow. Are you going to have a booth? Will you simply walk around passing out your business card? Do you want to hear specific speakers and pick up new industry knowledge?
Attending a tradeshow is an investment. So go into it with a solid plan, business goals, and actionable ways to meet your goals. Set measurable objectives before the event, and stick to them.
Be on the offense at a tradeshow, not the defense. Don't simply react to what occurs at the tradeshow. Arrive with a plan of action and make things happen.
3. Create a killer tradeshow booth
If you're displaying a booth on behalf of your startup, understand everything that doing so entails, including having a realistic budget in mind... yet making the best of your booth. Which is why you'll need to engage in careful research and planning.
Your booth is your platform for engaging with your audience. Treat it as you would your website or your storefront—with attention to detail and plenty of energy. Follow these best-practices:
- Use bright colors. You'll need to stand out from the hundreds—or thousands—of other booths at the tradeshow, or at least from the few booths nearest yours. One way is to use bright colors in your booth design. Try neon lights and clear signage to attract attention.
- Be approachable. You and your booth attendants need to be personable, friendly, and ready to interact with potential customers at all times. Dress professionally and greet people with a smile. Use a variety of promotional items to attract many different people, instead of limiting yourself to only a company pencil sharpener or drink cozies. Be self-confidant and talk to everyone, instructing your staff to follow suit.
- Throw a contest. There's no better way to pique otherwise uninterested consumers' interests than with the promise of a cruise for two or a free steakhouse dinner. No matter what your budget is, a contest or promotion is a great way to generate interest—and possible leads. Use your own products or services as the prize, if you want. Just make sure you ask visitors to fill out a contact form or add their email address to a list to enter the contest.
- Use social media. Your tradeshow booth needs its own social media marketing plan. Plan to engage with visitors via social media with a unique hashtag, live podcasts, or special incentives for visitors who visit your booth. Integrate social media with your booth for a cohesive, effective, and engaging campaign.
- Hire booth staff who care. When you're speaking or attending a lecture or otherwise away from your booth, you place the fate of your booth in the hands of the staff you've hired. Staff your booth with people who have a vested interest in your company and who genuinely care about the success of the tradeshow. Otherwise, your staff could drop the ball and make all your other efforts a waste.
Your first tradeshow booth may not rival those of the competition with massive budgets, but what you lack in glitz you can make up for in heart. You don't need to spend money on expensive lights or additional fees for a prime location. Those things help, of course, but they do not necessarily determine which will be the most memorable booths.
Be the booth that gets people talking with unusual design ideas, super-friendly staff, and engaging contests.
4. Network like a champ
Tradeshows are invaluable networking opportunities, and networking is most important when you're just getting your brand up and running. Making connections with potential business partners, new leads, and intriguing prospects is the name of the game.
To make a great first impression on the people who matter most, prepare yourself for conversations and keep a solid portfolio handy. Dress professionally and appropriately for the event, but also make sure you're comfortable. Nothing ruins a tradeshow like a chaffing collar or shoes that give you blisters. Maintain an image of professionalism to add value to your company and encourage connections to take your brand seriously.
Before you let the excitement of the tradeshow atmosphere get the best of you, take a moment to remember why you're there. Keep your goals in mind, then take a deep breath before introducing yourself to important contacts. Don't be afraid to make the first move.
Get back to new connections quickly, and have a plan for the follow-up. That's right, your job isn't over when the tradeshow ends. Schedule appointments with prospects right at the tradeshow to let them know you're serious about following up, and call them a few days before the appointment to confirm. Don't pester your prospects, but don't let them slip away, either.
Try to attend tradeshows that allow you to be a speaker. Although a booth is an important part of any tradeshow, speaking about your brand or mission is a powerful way to spread awareness and get your name out there. Sit on a panel with others, or create your own event at the tradeshow where you're the speaker.
In any case, make sure there is some opportunity for you to speak and speak well. Don't make your speech into a sales pitch. Instead, show off your valuable content, research, and mission. Most attendees didn't pay to sit through a sales pitch. They want to hear relevant takeaways.
5. Have a good time
Above all, remember that tradeshows are supposed to be fun. They are made for people with similar interests to come together, communicate, and learn from one another.
Tradeshows are competitions for startups in many ways, but they're also an opportunity to leave a positive impression on important people in your market. The easiest way to leave that kind of impression is to relax, have fun, and enjoy your time at the tradeshow.