9 Tips for a Successful Exhibition or Trade Show

Trade Show floor

Exhibitions and trade shows are a great way to meet prospective clients and generate new business. They’re also a big commitment of budget and time, so you’ll want to get a good return from your investment. I’ve helped many companies to have a successful exhibition by attracting prospects to their stand with magic. Here are some tips I’ve gathered over the years to help you get the best results out of your next exhibition, conference, or trade show.

1. Be clear on your objectives for the exhibition

One of the first questions I ask new clients is “How will you know if the exhibition has been a success?” It amazes me that this question is often answered with blank faces.

It seems that many companies turn up at a trade event feeling that they should be there because their competitors are, or that they’ll “try it out and see how it goes”.

Understanding what you want to get out of the trade show is critical to making it a success. It will also direct how you tackle the other steps detailed below. Your objectives should be clear and measurable. “I want to get more leads” is not an objective. “I want to get 50 new leads for potential clients who are looking to buy a service like mine in the next 12 months” is much better.

There are many success metrics you can use for the event. Make sure you now what your objectives are upfront, and be clear on how you are going to measure them.

2. make your First impressions count

Your exhibition stand might be the first time future customers have interacted with your product or brand.  Make sure it says all of the right things. Sure, you will have a budget to keep to, but it’s important not to scrimp on the details here. Some things to consider:

  • Size of the stand
  • Branding
  • Collateral
  • Promotion materials and giveaways
  • Audio/Visual (and any technical requirements needed to deliver this)
  • Dress code of your team who are present on the stand

A little advice on dress: Standing up all day can be very tiring. If you can, take a spare pair of shoes and change them half way through the day. You’ll be surprised at the relief a clean, dry pair shoes will offer your tired feet!

3. What do you even do?

I was recently at a marketing event and took some time to walk round the exhibitors. Considering the businesses were all in the marketing industry, I was surprised that I couldn’t quickly figure out what many of the exhibitors actually did. If I could, it was often sold as “features” rather than “benefits”. I don’t care about all 376 unique features your product has, I want to know what problems you can solve for me.

Do the messages on your booth quickly convey exactly why I should come to talk to you? Ideally, focus on one or two problems that your product or service solves and have a short, compelling message which says that.

4. Pick the right team, and train them!

It’s not enough just to have a great team on your stand, you’ll need to brief and train them properly too!

Don’t leave the logistics to chance. Have clear instructions on where your team need to be and when, and what shifts everybody will be doing. Clearly set out details about breaks, dress code and anything else they need to prepare or bring with them.

Everyone should be clear on your objectives (if you haven’t set them yet, go back to point 1.) Brief the team on your elevator pitch. This should concisely tell prospects what you do, in a way that talks about benefits to them. Make sure it’s clear how you will demonstrate your product or service, and what the process is for gathering leads and following up. If you’re running a promotion, make sure everyone’s clear on exactly how that works.

Always have somebody senior on the stand to escalate enquiries to if they can’t be dealt with by the rest of the team, or to speak to important prospects who might need extra attention.

5. No phones, laptops or food

You’ve got a great looking stand, staffed by a brilliant team in coordinated outfits. If they’re all sat around scrolling through Facebook on their smartphones, I’m unlikely to be compelled to talk to them! This may feel painful, but I highly recommend banning phones and laptops for everybody working on the stand. Laptops for product demos are fine, but not for surfing the web or checking emails.

The same goes for food. Allocate clear breaks for everybody working so they can go and eat food elsewhere.

6. Social Proof: the big secret to a successful exhibition

Have you ever been to an event, seen a group of people crowding around something, and felt compelled to find out what was going on? You just experienced the power of Social Proof.

In his book “Influence: Science and Practice”, Robert Cialdini cites an experiment where people stand in the street and look up to the sky, at nothing in particular. Within a short period of time, several other people stopped and did the same. They had no idea why, they were just following the example of others.

You can use the principle of Social Proof at exhibitions and trade shows by having good reasons to have people visit. This is exactly what I do when I work as an Exhibition Magician – the initial crowd I build generates interest in other passers-by and encourages them to stop too. Before long, everybody wants to come and see what’s going on. There are many other ways to utilise Social Proof. Games, competitions, interactive displays are good examples of this. Think about what you could do with your product or brand to make your stand more interactive.

Trade Show Magician
Performing magic for stand visitors at a recent trade event

7. Extend your message past the stand

Why just rely on people finding you on the trade show floor? There are many ways you can extend your marketing message beyond your exhibition stand. Branded merchandise is one. Bags can be useful for people to carry any collateral they collect, making them a walking marketing message for you.

Consider how you can leverage social media too. Many events have an active Twitter hashtag which you can be part of. Don’t just push messages telling people to visit you though. Is there a way you can encourage other people to tweet about you? When I work as a magician at trade shows, I often incorporate magic tricks which encourage visitors to tweet about my client’s exhibition stand.

Finally, if you can get a speaking slot, this can be a great way to boost your message and encourage people to visit you after your talk. If you are speaking at an exhibition, you might find my guide on how to deliver better presentations useful.

8. How will you gather leads?

For many exhibitors, a primary objective is to gather leads which will hopefully turn into future customers. Plan in advance how you’re going to do this and make sure everybody is fully briefed on how it will work. If you’re using a technology solution, test it and don’t leave anything to chance on the day. Have a back up in case of any hiccups, even if it’s a simple solution like pen and paper.

9. Follow up

You have put a plan in place to follow-up on your newly gathered leads, right? Again, don’t leave anything to chance here. Have a clear and consistent follow-up planned which is designed with your initial objectives in mind, and make sure your sales team are clear on this.

Track the results and record them. This will help to decide if you’ve achieved what you set out to, and if you haven’t, understand what you need to change next time!

That should give you enough to think about when you’re planning your next exhibition or trade show. If you want to find out how I can help you to have a successful exhibition, get in touch for a chat about how we could work together.

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