If you’re a supplier or have ever represented an organization, you’ve exhibited at a trade show. So you know the drill: Load in at 7 a.m., stand for eight hours without sufficient food or water, hope to hook people who studiously avoid making eye contact with you so you can’t collect their business cards (if they have any left).
It’s a ridiculously inefficient and unfriendly environment for human beings, but one that endures because it produces leads. If you aren’t lucky enough to partner with a show that has dumped that model, here are some tips on maintaining your sanity and humanity.
1. Create a reason for people to come into your booth
Forget Bingo cards and passports. You need to create a reason for people to seek you out. What can you offer that has value but doesn’t require a cash investment? What do you or your sales team members know that might have value for event attendees?
A suggestion: Create a mini-educational session of 10 to 30 minutes that you can repeat on an as-needed basis. Build a takeaway white paper, template or fact sheet that they’ll trade in exchange for their contact information. With small groups, you can use an iPad for visuals. For groups of 20 to 50, a Pico projector (about $400 at any airport Brookstone) connected to your phone, tablet or laptop and a blank trade-show wall will work just fine.
Most trade-show organizers will help you publicize in-booth events. They’re great because they give you a reason to talk to people looking through your swag. They may not be there for the 10:30 a.m. session, but now that they know there is one, they might decide to stay. Even if they don’t, you’ve created a less creepy icebreaker than “How much do you know about us?”
For some reason, trade-show organizers treat exhibitors like second-class citizens. You may not even be invited to lunch or receptions. While sponsors may get invited to the networking breakfast, you’re expected to be setting up. And you certainly aren’t welcome to grab the water or beer other exhibitors stock for attendees. This means you’d better pack for every trade show like you’re going camping. Make sure you have plenty of nonperishable food and water stowed away. You don’t want to wither in the wilderness of the exhibit hall.’
3. Dress for action
Wow, those heels (or fancy man shoes) are stylish. But how do they feel after you’ve worn them for eight hours? Experienced show runners (men and women) tend to bring four or five pairs of shoes with them, but they’re also the people most likely to flush their feet in the toilet at night. You only but one back, two hips and two knees. Treat them kindly, and pack yourself some flats that flex and can go from day to night. If you’re professionally dressed, no one will be looking at your feet. Think about packing layers (conference environments can go from arctic to heat-flash in a hurry) and wearing one color scheme for the duration so everything you bring can mix and match, depending on how you feel (or what you spill) that day.
Standing or sitting all day isn’t healthy for anyone. Neither is constantly being “on,” as is required of salespeople in this setting. Take a mini-break every 90 minutes or so. Go to the bathroom, fill your water bottle or take a brisk walk. Can’t leave your booth? Schedule an in-booth wellness activity like yoga, tai chi, chi gong, stretching, massage or a sweat-free fitness break powered by X bytes. That provides another reason people should visit your booth and helps you connect with the attendees in a non-sales-y way while taking care of yourself.
It’s your time and your company/association’s money, so make it fun. Fill your booth schedule with things you’ll enjoy doing. Add something unexpected that makes you laugh, like tongue-in-cheek signage. At one event, our PYM team brought a kid’s portable mic/amplifier and a Hot Wheels racetrack. When things were dead, they encouraged passers-by to choose a car and use the mic to smack-talk competitors. We had fun, and the playful atmosphere brought people into the booth who normally wouldn’t give us a second look. Because the mic was a kid’s toy, it wasn’t a noise pollution issue (unlike the industry-specific Whack-a-Mole machine that got us shut down one year).
You might also enjoy using giant Post-it notes to pose provocative questions. As people walk by, encourage them to share their thoughts on these issues. The bonus is asking for input that could help your business. After the event, create a white paper of your findings to share with everyone who contributed.
Want even more ideas? Check out this short conversation with Jenise Fryatt of Icon Presentations about activities we experimented with at IMEX America.
Have more tips or strategies that worked for you? Share them with us in the comments section below.