So, you’re going to/exhibiting at a trade show…

Here are a few survival + make it awesome tips I’ve gathered over the years.

Trade Shows = Better with caricature artists onsite. This is from the recent Power Gen International.

Trade Shows = Better with caricature artists onsite. This is from the recent Power Gen International.

1. Comfort – You’re going to be on your feet for approximately a million hours. This should dictate your wardrobe and footwear choices. A lot of people wear suits to make themselves look more important, but come on, that’s so 10 years ago. A sports jacket or business casual blazer does the job just fine without making you look stuffy, outdated, and pretentious. Dress nicely, and comfortably. Women – high heels are absolutely out of the question, unless you’re one of those amazing chicks with feet of steel/no feeling left in your feet. Also, blisters are much easier to prevent than to try and treat/walk around with for the second half of the show. A few strategically placed band-aids and appropriate socks or stockings will go a long ways.

2. Hydration – Drink water. Duh. This is one of those easy to forget but super important points. Make a conscious effort to get liquids in your system. Coffee, soda, and alcohol don’t count. While we’re on the topic of alcohol, take it easy. This is a work event, not a party. Yes, please go ahead and take advantage of the free booze and cocktail specials (alcohol aka social lubrication is an important part of networking) but know your limit. A tipsy professional is annoying at best, embarrassing and completely inappropriate at worst. Keep in mind that hangovers are a terrible plan for Wednesday morning.

3. Food – Eat it. Another Duh. But seriously, make sure you are eating relatively normal and healthy meals. Avoid anything that has the potential to either A – ruin your outfit or B – put you in a food coma. A bag of trail mix you can hide in your purse can be a lifesaver in emergency situations.

4. Booth Branding – Volumes could be said about this topic, but, for most small to medium sized companies, here’s the main idea:
a. What do you do/sell/provide? Somebody should be able to tell this by GLANCING at your booth. Unless you are working with a household name brand, your logo and company name are actually relatively unimportant. Sorry if you named the company with more care than your first born, and your best friend designed your beautiful logo, Joe Smith doesn’t care. You have a split second to get the attention of a dazed floor wanderer, use that second to make it crystal clear what solution you can provide to your customer. THEN they might be interested in hearing your 30 second elevator pitch or checking out a brochure. “Number one in reliability” “customer choice” “we are the best” are all nice, but really tell me nothing. Reliable what? What customer choice? Best at what?

5. Who else is there – Research the show beforehand, figure out who you should be tracking down and meeting/having a conversation with/secret shopping their booth. Showing up is half the battle, sure, but effective use of the event requires some homework.

6. Leverage – Related to the point above… your presence in a booth is not all that going to a show is about! Connect with people on social media, let your email lists know you’re going to the show, take advantage of industry lunches, dinners, and related events, talk about the show after the fact, whether it’s via email, blogs, video clips, or a combo. Think of this as an opportunity to generate, collect, and utilize valuable contacts and marketing content.

Bonus random notes that I find interesting and relevant:

1. Video Monitors – Those are expensive to rent/ship/buy/whatever. Have you thought about using a compact projector screen instead? I’ve seen some genius uses of this, even projecting onto a mounted sheet of glass or plastic. Looks high tech and is way more practical than the alternative TV. TV’s like suits, are soooo ten years ago.

2. Promo Models – Unless you’re selling alcohol or sports bikes or something more relevant, save yourself some level of class and dress your models in more than booty shorts and bikinis. Really. The idea is to be relevant. I get that you want to be attention getting, and yes, I fully agree that people prefer to talk to an attractive stranger than an ugly or boring one, but you have to think about the sort of attention you are generating. If you feel the need to increase the hotness level in your booth, sure, get models. But THEN, prep them with a good script of key selling point, and put them in an appropriate outfit. Also, these are the only people at shows that are truly expected to wear high heels. That’s what they get paid for.

3. Free Food and Drinks – This is related to models. Yes, it’s an attention getter, but think about the sort of attention you are getting. Food and drinks can be a GREAT addition to your booth, just think it through. Also, be prepared to spend more time serving food than closing sales. Consider hiring a bartender to do this for you. In other words, if you’re going to do it, do it full out and know how to take advantage of all the foodies attention while they are scoring their free grub.

4. SWAG – Good swag is an expensive investment and can be a worthwhile one. Let’s define what makes it good:
a. People will display it as they are walking around the show – This makes it a brand awareness and traffic driving piece
b. It has a shelf life after the show. Will this end up on the exec’s desk in everyday sight? Perfect.
c. It explains your solution, or at least makes your company name and website visible and/is relevant to your brand

A few examples of good swag:

1. An AWESOME bag. AWESOME is key here, because bags are very common. Your bag needs something that sets it apart, that is cool, noticeable, etc. For example, I once tracked a booth down purely because of the bags that I saw people carrying around, got a bag, talked to their rep, and then used the bag to pack up all of our extension cords at the end of the day. I also took a picture with the bag and put it on my personal Instagram account…. Enough exposure?

2. A new take on something useable, such as a unique USB drive (pre-loaded with all your info, auto play, preferably, of course). Example – I got a metal USB drive the size of a zipper pull before. Officially the coolest drive ever. It ended up on my keychain for about half a year. The same concept can of course apply to pens, note pads, and other such do-dads.

3. Something relevant and useful to the industry you are selling to! This is the holy grail of swag, it’s something cool, useful, and branded in a way that’s clear but not annoying. In other words, the swag-taker will want to use it back in real-life. Example – Interior Design show handing out architectural rulers. They use those little things all day every day, apparently.

And finally SHIPPING/LOGISTICS – depending on the urgency of your schedule, this can be a major pain point. Delayed shipments, missing pieces, stuff sent to the wrong place, stuff arriving too early and getting sent back, the list of potential mishaps goes on and on. I’ve learned… avoid separate shipments if at all possible! The more you can consolidate packages, the better. And if there’s a chance you’ll miss your window of opportunity for getting shit beautiful booth supplies where it all needs to be, pay the extra bucks for rush shipping. AND keep track of all your tracking numbers. Missing packages are much easier to find this way… Not that Fed Ex and UPS don’t have my complete trust here…

So that’s that. What are your trade show tips?

Alissa Jean

PS – Bonus common sense tip: Know your booth number. You’d be shocked at the number of texts and calls I’ve gotten from sales reps wandering around the show wondering where they are supposed to be working. Duh.


Comments (3)

  • Awesome post Alissa! Really great info! 🙂

  • Very insightful!

    Janine Streiter
  • Thanks, Mike and Janine! Aren’t trade shows fun?

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