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10 More Things I Wish I Knew

Business exhibition stallsby Mike Thimmesch

My recent article, "10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Exhibiting At Trade Shows," generated a lot of response, ranging from nostalgia to chuckles to gratitude. So I dug a little deeper and came up with 10 more things I wished I knew before I started exhibiting at trade shows:

  1. There are attendees at the show who are actually looking for what you offer. Although some booth staffers work the booth with a nearly invincible sense of confidence, there are some who are reluctant to engage attendees. To give yourself a mental push towards the aisle, remember that trade show attendees actually paid to travel to the show and they want to be there. Most come with a shopping list, and provided you've chosen a show where the attendees match your target market, there's no reason you can't be the one they buy from. Many times, I've had attendees who turned into leads thank me for engaging them because we offered what they came to the show to find.
  2. Promotions are a huge help for your booth staffers. It takes a high level of skill for trade show booth staffers to pull lots of attendees out of the aisle. Many lack that skill. Give them a hand with a good promotion. Send a pre-show promotion that gives attendees a strong reason to plan a visit to your booth, and visitors will walk in and engage your staffers, not the other way around. Have a great at-show promotion, and motivate attendees to cross into your booth on their own. Good promotions help booth staffers start conversations that lead to leads, which lead to sales.
  3. Time may seem to be passing slowly, but it's actually precious. At almost every show there comes a time when your watch seems to be moving in slow motion. If you had three wishes from a genie, you'd use one to have the show end. However, trade show time is never to be wished away. Your company has made a big investment to get in front of hundreds, if not thousands of potential clients. It's a worthwhile investment, but even still, there is only a finite number of show hours to meet your prospects. Retain a sense of urgency as long as there are attendees walking the show floor. You've paid for the access, get your money's worth.
  4. Your exhibit has too much stuff on it. When your trade show exhibit is designed, it's usually from your company's perspective, not the attendee's perspective. So it gets loaded up with too many fun facts, figures and other text, plus too may small images, and perhaps lots of products, too. The result? A visual morass that attendees avoid. Instead, put fewer elements on your exhibit, but make them bigger. That way, your message will be crystal-clear to your attendees, and they will understand why they will benefit from visiting your booth.
  5. Go to bed early the night before you staff your booth. I can remember just after college hitting the bars until the early hours night after night, and then getting up for work at 6:00 a.m. the next day without any problem. Regretfully, my body doesn't work that way anymore, and chances are, yours doesn't either. And yet, when we are away from home, in a town designed more for fun than our own, it's tempting to stay out late. Resist that temptation — your company is counting on you to be sharp and alert in your mentally and physically challenging role as a booth staffer. Get a good night's rest, and fulfill the faith your company put in you when they sent you across the country to represent them.
  6. It's okay to take breaks. You don't need to be a martyr and never leave your booth. You're not only hurting yourself, you're hurting your company. After a couple of hours of staffing, you can lose your edge. When you're not fresh, attendees can see it, and you will harm your company's perception — this applies to #5 as well! Get yourself a change in scenery, a bio break, some food and drink, and clear your head so you can greet attendees with a genuine smile again. Just don't let your breaks get too long, as your time in the booth is valuable. Also, your booth captain should schedule enough booth staffers so when one takes a break, there are still enough to meet the needs of the show.
  7. Don't expect perfection. Trade shows are complicated affairs, with so many chances for problems. The question isn't whether something will go wrong, but when and what. Once you realize that, you can only do your best to alleviate problems when they come up and not freak out about it. You'll learn that some issues that seem like obvious errors to you will go unnoticed to all but the most perceptive eyes. That's not to say you shouldn't seek The Perfect Show. It's just that you shouldn't crucify yourself when you don't achieve it.
  8. Lead cards are worth their weight in gold. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, "The weakest ink is better than the strongest memory." A lead card is a sheet from a pre-printed pad of paper for writing down notes about each interaction your staffers have with attendees. A lead card holds a lot more information than the back of a business card. You record the attendee's contact information, product interest and comments they shared in your conversation that will help your sales person follow up on the lead. A complete lead card gives your sales people greater insight and motivation to turn that lead into a sale.
  9. You will get visitors to your booth who are unhappy with your company. Trade shows are a large public forum where some people have had poor experiences with your company. If you're the rookie booth staffer facing an angry client, you don't have to handle it on your own. Find the senior company representative in the booth, and introduce the unhappy camper, with a short synopsis of their problem, to show that you have been listening. If you do have to handle it yourself, follow the three A's formula that Chris Brogan and Julien Smith write about in Trust Agents: "acknowledge, apologize, act." Let them know you hear their issue, that you are sorry they had that bad experience, and tell them how you are going to either solve their problem, or communicate it within your company.
  10. Trade shows require a lot to learn, but in time you can master them. When you first set foot in a trade show it's a complete surprise to discover that tens of thousands of people gather in a large hall filled with temporary structures to share their common interests for a few days. And when you then become involved in staffing, organizing or marketing your company's presence there, all the unknown details can quickly become overwhelming. But after a few shows more things shift from the unknown to the known column. Eventually, you can even read an article like this and nod your head in satisfying agreement, because you've earned your stripes and know what it takes to exhibit at trade shows.