by Susan Friedmann
Research a show carefully before you decide to exhibit. Does this show attract a large number of people from your target audience? Tradeshow participation takes a lot of time, energy and resources. You don't want to spend them on folks who are unlikely ever to do business with you.
Be afraid to ask questions. Show organizers have all kinds of information that new exhibitors would benefit from knowing. Ask about attendee demographics, exhibitor's requirements, and what assistance you can expect from the show's staff.
Start planning early. Regular tradeshow exhibitors routinely start planning their appearances twelve to eighteen months in advance.
Pass up the chance to visit other industry events before you exhibit for the first time. Make note of what exhibitors worked for you and what turned you off. What did you find to be effective? Can you incorporate those items into your own exhibit?
Make a list of goals and objectives for the show. This list should be very specific. Do you want to generate $X in new sales, start a certain number of new business relationships, or spread the word about a new service offering you're introducing to the market?
Get sidetracked by what everyone else is doing - or by what people tell you you 'have' to do at a tradeshow. You're at the show to reinforce your expert identity and achieve your goals and objectives. Anything else is off-target.
Be open to creative and new ways of presenting your services. Tradeshow attendees see hundreds of exhibits in the course of one day. You need to be unique and engaging for your display to be memorable.
Be afraid to be enthusiastic about your services. If you're genuinely jazzed up about what you do, attendees will sense that. Enthusiasm is contagious -- and more importantly, it sells!
Learn the 80/20 rule and take it to heart. The best exhibitors are those who listen 80% of the time and talk 20%. Focusing on attendees' wants and needs is a surefire route to success.
"Throw Up" on attendees. This very common practice occurs when nervous exhibitors can't stop talking, and keep up a constant barrage of facts, figures, and sales spiel. Attendees are quickly turned off by this, and your chance to form a profitable new business relationship walks away.
Remember you're on display. What you're selling at a tradeshow is, primarily, first impressions. Be professional, well-dressed, and mannerly at all times. You never know who's watching.
Eat, drink, or chat on your cell phone on the show floor. When you need refreshment or a break, leave your exhibit booth. Remember, the eyes of the public are on you at all times, so you'll want to conduct yourself well.
Be realistic. Tradeshows are long events. You're on the floor for anywhere from ten to twelve hours at a go, often several days in a row. This is a lot for any one person to do on their own, and most Nichepreneuers are solo operations. Ask for help. Recruit friends to work the show with you. If nothing else, they can spell you while you grab a quick bite to eat.
Forget! If you have friends help you at the tradeshow, it behooves you to provide them with some training. Make sure they understand what your services are, how you're different from your peers, and what the marketing message is. Also, have a plan in place to cover what they should do when they run into a question they don't know the answer to.
Ask qualifying questions. You want to know who you're talking to, who they work for, and in what capacity. This will help you determine if the attendee is a prospective customer or not.
Be afraid to encourage people to move along if they're not interested in your services. Some of the people who attend tradeshows are 'tire-kickers' -- they like to discuss everything, but buy nothing. You don't want to waste your time with them.
Take notes. Take time before the show to create a lead-card system, in which you'll record pertinent information to facilitate post-show follow-up.
Depend on your memory -- no matter how good you are, a few words scrawled on the back of a business card won't be enough after the show's over and you've met with literally hundreds of people.
Be polite and nice to everyone. The junior executive today can be a senior executive tomorrow.
Forget to read the Exhibitor's Service manual. This is the thick packet of materials you received when you registered for the show. Inside, you'll find everything you need to know about exhibiting at that particular show -- and discover important deadlines for ordering services. Don't miss those deadlines or you'll pay more for everything!
Reach out to the media. Have a press kit available in the media room. Be open to interviews -- reporters and freelancers often walk the floor looking for stories. If you have something truly newsworthy to announce, schedule a press conference at the show.
Forget to advertise your tradeshow participation. Make sure your target audience knows they can see you at the show, where you'll be, and what they can expect when they visit you.
Follow Up! The most important part of any tradeshow takes place after you leave the building. You see that big pile of leads you've gathered? Send them all thank you notes for coming to see you -- and follow up with them the most promising prospects quickly. You'll be glad you did.
Hesitate to include hands-on, interactive demonstrations into your exhibit whenever possible. People love to participate. They love to try new things. Most of all, they love to have fun. If you can integrate fun into your exhibit, you'll have more attendees than you know what to do with.
Use giveaway items that enhance your expert identity. You want items that your attendees will use regularly and reinforce their impression of you as the expert.
Get caught up in trendy giveaway items pushed by promotional salespeople. You want to stand out from the crowd, not merge with it.
Give your tradeshow participation a fair chance to work. Results may not be immediate. Rome wasn't built in a day. But the business relationships you start at tradeshows today can steadily blossom into profitable partnerships tomorrow.