The first time you step into a booth space as an exhibitor can be a bit daunting. You may be part of a big team. You may be side-kicking it with just one other person. Or, I suppose, you could be doing it all on your own as a solopreneur.
Whatever the case, the trepidation is palpable. What if people think the exhibit is ugly? What if they ask a question I can’t answer? What if I don’t make any connections or sell anything and it’s a complete bust?
The first time I stood in a booth as an exhibitor after getting into the industry was in November 2003. I’d been in the industry for less than two years and was tasked with driving the rental truck with the 10×20 custom booth we’d made at Interpretive Exhibits to Reno and setting up the exhibit at the National Association for Interpretation annual conference.
It was scary and fun at the same time. I’d never navigated the unloading of a truck like that with all of the exhibit pieces, but with some advice from the shop guys who built it, I managed to get it unloaded and into the hall and get it set up.
The exhibit was a Tiki lounge-inspired exhibit, complete with a big Tiki god with glowing eyeballs, flaming mouth and vapors out of the top, like a volcano. It was designed to show potential clients the creativity our designers and builders could conjure up, and it went over well.
One of our designers flew down and joined me for the two days of the show.
When it came to actually be interacting with visitors, not much sticks out. I was still quite a way from figuring out what to do in the booth, so I tried to smile, answer questions and be a help as much as possible. Beyond that, not much comes to mind!
But it was my initiation into the world of tradeshow marketing. After I joined the company I’d sold a custom exhibits to local businesses, including Kettle Foods and Nancy’s Yogurt, but still had almost no clue as to what to say to people when I was actually in the booth.
Even with my lack of knowledge of what to do, I did know a few things. I knew why we were there, and I knew what we wanted to get out of it. We were exhibiting to connect with government organizations and non-profits that might eventually be looking for someone to design and build interpretive exhibits.
Our investment was minimal, and over time we might have actually gotten some business out of it. Frankly, I don’t remember because it wasn’t on my radar to track anything like that.
As the years went by and I participated in more shows, and helped clients do the same, it became clear that even if it’s your first show, there are a handful of things to keep in mind.
Know why you’re there. What is the goal? Is it to sell products or services? Is it to generate leads so a sales crew can follow up? Are you launching a new product?
Why are you there?
Know how to capture data and what data you need. When generating leads, know exactly what information you need. Obviously, you need an individual’s name, company and contact info. Beyond that, what’s important about the follow up: is it a phone meeting, or in person? Do they need you to send information prior to the meeting? When is the meeting and is it scheduled on their calendar?
What’s your role? Every person at a tradeshow is there for a reason. Why are you there? Know your role, whether it’s to assist with other people, hand out samples, or coordinate logistics. A first-timer may not be tasked with a ton of things, but obviously that can change from business to business.
How does the tradeshow fit into the company’s overall marketing strategy? While this may not be critical in the big picture, if the front-line staffers on the show floor have a good understanding of the overall company marketing scheme, knowing how the tradeshow fits in that scheme will help.
You’ll only have one first tradeshow as an exhibitor, no matter your role. After that, you’re no longer a newbie. But if your first one has yet to come, go into it knowing that you’ll survive. Heck, you might even learn a few things and have fun. Once it’s over, take a quick little assessment. Speak to your manager and ask what they thought. Debrief a little. Take the feedback and apply it to your next show and voila’, you’re on your way!