Not a bad way to kick off June! I sat down with Mel White of Classic Exhibits, along with a few dozen viewers, for a presentation on tradeshow tips for newbies and wannabes. He invited me as part of their ongoing “Fast and Furious” webinar series, and I was grateful to be asked and glad to join. We nicknamed the presentation ‘From Tradeshow Stupid to Tradeshow Smart in 50 Minutes,’ but whatever you want to call it, I jammed a lot of stuff into the presentation. Take a look – hope you get something out of it, and thanks to Classic Exhibits for inviting me!
I tend to make a lot of lists. Not as many as I used to (maybe I think I have enough lists by now!), but I still write things down. You’d think this makes me organized, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Several years ago, not long after I got married, I sat down and wrote out a comprehensive emergency “If I Get Hit By a Bus” list. It’s self-explanatory: it’s where my wife can find all of those things she needs if the worst were to happen: passwords for phones, computers, websites and more; will, important papers, all of that stuff.
I realized over the weekend that I should probably update the list soon because things change. Some old info drops off, new stuff is added. But then I thought: should tradeshow managers do the same thing? After all, there are a lot of moving parts in tradeshow marketing.
Hey, life is unpredictable. Things happen that you haven’t planned for. Most of us really don’t spend much time thinking about the worst thing that could happen. And subsequently, that means we really aren’t prepared for it, at least not as much as we could be.
What should be on your list? It may vary from person to person, and company to company, but here are a number of things that come to mind:
- List of shows: Include booth sizes, dates, locations.
- Vendors: who handles your exhibit; who designs graphic updates, who prints them? Who fixes your exhibit when it needs repairs?
- Service providers at the show: while many companies use show services at the venue, many also bring in outside exhibitor-approved contractors to set up and dismantle the booth. Or print something on demand in a quick turnaround.
- Personnel: Who went to what shows, what their duties were. Who’s still with you, who might have left. Contact information.
- Where files are kept: tradeshows generate paperwork, either digitally or actual paper. If they’re kept on a server, note the location. Same with your work computer. Same with your file drawers.
- How much things cost: similar to keeping track of paperwork, but building a spreadsheet to track costs from show to show and year to year can also be of great use.
- Exhibit details: size of booth at particular shows. Size of graphics (you’ll be updating them frequently); number of crates, storage location, what shipper you generally use, along with contact information on those various entities. Names and phone numbers are always a good thing.
- Social Media access credentials: whether you handle these personally or not, if you’re involved or if there is to be social media engagement from the show floor, add those login details to your list.
Once you have your list, give a copy to your immediate boss, or to someone on your team you trust that will use it if necessary. You should be good to go for another year or so before updating it.
Now, we can certainly agree that a lot of activities can pump up your lead generation numbers. But when it comes to things that are (almost) foolproof, here are the top five that come to mind for me.
- Professional presenter
- Interactivity + follow up
- Hands-on demo
- Pre-show marketing / appointments
- Trained booth staff
Let’s agree that on the tradeshow floor, you don’t have total control. You can’t control how many people find your booth, you can’t control the organization that’s promoting the show, you can’t control your attendees and so on. Which means that no matter what you do, you may still fall short.
Having a professional presenter, one that really knows their stuff and how to present your company to your attendees, over and over, several times a day throughout the show, is often seen as one of the surefire solid ways to get more leads. Just make sure your booth staff is ready for the influx of people and know how to handle them before they get away when the presenter is done.
Interactivity + follow up. Interactivity can mean a lot of things, but for the sake of argument, let’s narrow it down to something that relates specifically to your product or service.
Hands-on Demo. Perhaps slightly different than interactivity, this is an actual demonstration where your booth visitor actually, physically, learns a little more about your product. Say, a software demonstration, or a class in the booth space that teaches while they have their hands on the product.
Pre-show marketing / appointments. Setting appointments prior to the show, getting the one-on-one meetings on to a prospect’s calendar, is often the best way to ensure you have an audience of one that is focused on your message.
Trained booth staff. How important is a trained booth staffer? Probably the most important thing you have going for you other than your actual products and services. Worth their weight in gold. Make sure your staffers know how to answer questions, capture contact info, do a demo, put on a smile, and act appropriately in the booth (no phone in their hands, no eating, and so on).
There are dozens of other things you can do, but these are the top five in my book.
The tradeshow, event and conference industries are not dead. It’s just sleeping. It’ll awaken at some point again and roar to life.
In the meantime, time on your hands. Maybe, maybe not. I certainly have time on my hands. And I have to bring in a little income.
So, I’m driving for Uber Eats and delivering food three to four hours a day. Not bad money, actually, for the time involved. My older son, who’s in his late 20s, had been working as a cook in an upscale restaurant which had to close when the coronavirus restrictions here in Oregon went into place. When we went skiing together a month ago, he told me that he’d been driving for Uber Eats a few hours before he went to work, and then a few hours after he got off in the evening. Now that the restaurant closed, he’s doing it eight hours a day, six or seven days a week. Likes being in his car (it’s new), listening to music, and bringing food to people.
I thought, I can do this. And making a few extra bucks (it’s actually pretty good pay) was enticing. It took a short while to get signed up and approved, and now I’m delivering food from restaurants to people a few hours a day. Sometimes lunch, sometimes dinner.
It gives me a lot of time to think. And listen to rock, or podcasts. But definitely time to think.
And I got to thinking about systems. What kind of systems does it take for an Uber driver (or Door Dash or Grub Hub or any of those companies) to get an offer to drive, accept it, pick up the food and deliver it in a timely manner while it’s still hot?
The driver needs:
- A car
- Smartphone with app
- Address to pickup
- Address to deliver
The smartphone has all of those items, other than the car, built in. GPS. Mapping. Internet connectivity.
The customer needs:
- An app to order food from
- An address for the driver to deliver it to
- A way to pay (credit or debit card) they can use through the app
The restaurant needs:
- A system that receives incoming orders and gets them to the kitchen in a timely manner
- Ability to prepare food quickly and have it ready for pickup within a few moments
As I drive from a restaurant to a drop off point, it’s common to get another offer to pick up another order before the current one is delivered.
During my drives, I keep thinking what an intricate system this is. What an elaborate dance it is to transmit an offer to a driver that’s in the area, about to drop off one order, to deliver another order. As an Uber Eats driver, it’s all optional. Don’t want that one? Don’t take it.
Then I get to thinking about the systems built around tradeshows and events. About what the show organizer needs. What the exhibitor needs. What the visitor needs.
Think about the systems that must be in place for all of that to work to a positive effect on a regular basis. Design and fabrication of tradeshow exhibits. Shipping, setup/dismantle logistics. Travel and lodging. Product development and production.
As a participant, you only can see and control what’s immediately in front of you. But as a tradeshow marketing manager, you can exert a lot of control over how your company exhibits. How your product is presented, how your company is represented by the exhibit and the booth staff. Who sets up the booth, who handles shipping and so on.
Now that the tradeshow and event industry is on hiatus, maybe it’s a good time to examine your systems that hold everything in place from your perspective and see what can be improved.
After all, while I don’t mind driving a few hours a day delivering food, I’d rather get back to the tradeshow world full time soon.
Cruising Twitter is always an entertaining proposition. Sometimes because you find some really interesting stuff. Other times because you end up wanting to pull your hair out. But it’s never boring!
In search of some #tradeshow ideas, I entered that search term in the box on Twitter. Lots of companies use Twitter to push out advertisements and come-ons, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you mix it up with good useful information. But I looked and came up with a handful of good articles. Let’s take a look.
Color Reflections offers “8 Event Booth Design Tips for the Wow Factor,” including ideas on how to stand out, how to stay true to your brand, make sure your booth staff are all on the same page and more.
Skyline Southeast offers an article called “The Benefits of Custom Tradeshow Booth Construction” which is a good walk-through when you’re considering a new custom exhibit.
Our good friends over at Tradeshow Makeover has “5 Expert Tips on How to Stop Leaving Money on the Tradeshow Floor.” It’s got a wrap-up of tips from five individuals, including investing in your tradeshow staff training, goal-setting, and adding value to your interactions.
The UK’s leading business magazine, Business Matters, offers an article on the “4 Best Ways to Optimise Space in Your Tradeshow Exhibits.” The link was tweeted by Jahabow, a custom retail display company from Owensville, Missouri.
Fortunate PR guy (his words) Jim Bianchi tweeted out a link to a post called “Top Lessons Learned for Automotive and Mobility Suppliers from CES2020.” Much of the lessons had to do with how beneficial CES is to exhibitors (which it certainly should be), but it illustrates how many traditional auto suppliers are finding their way into one of the world’s biggest shows. Another tip had to do with navigating around Las Vegas during show time, given that the public transit systems can be overwhelmed by an additional 175,000 people. Yeah, no kidding!
Zentila, a meeting resource planning tool from Aventri, shared a link to an article titled “7 Signs You Need a Lead Retrieval System for Your Onsite Team.” Tips include saving time, organization of your leads, sustainability and more.
And finally, a list from Architectural Digest on Tradeshows You Should Consider Attending in 2020, assuming you’re in the architectural world. Most of the shows are stateside, but there are mentions of the London Design Festival, Heimtextil in Frankfurt and others. Lots of details on each show for the serious planner. This was shared by Skyline out of South Carolina.
Yes, Twitter has its detractors and it can be a little overwhelming if crazy politics are going on at that moment (okay, that’s always going on), but it’s also a good source for good information if you just know where to look.
Everyone is different, yet everyone is the same. We all attend or exhibit at tradeshows with things we need, and if we end up there without those things, we feel like part of us is missing. Here’s a short list of things that I always take on the road to tradeshows. I mean, beyond the clothing and other stuff that ends up in a suitcase. Here are a few things I’ll have with me when I head to the show floor at Natural Products Expo West in early March:
Charging cord and plug-in adapter for my phone
iPhone 6S: holds thousands of photos and songs, not so mention show apps and a million other things.
Boosa charger: this is the best I’ve had. It holds enough juice to re-charge my iPhone 6S at least four times before it needs to be plugged in again. Great to have on the show floor.
Laptop: while I suppose I don’t really need this I’d feel lost without it. It’s a 2011 MacBook Pro that’s been upgraded a couple of times and runs like a clock. Great to offload photos, do some writing and blogging, surf the web in the Airbnb. More comfortable with this than an iPhone for handling email or writing or sharing social media.
Spare key locks for client counters: most of these counters use the same lock, and it seems that the keys can easily go missing, so I keep a few in my backpack.
Backpack: where would you be without it, right? Like a purse, only bigger and it fits easily on the back.
Reading material: often it’s a piece of fiction, but sometimes something else.
iPad Mini 2: It doesn’t get a lot of use, but on the plane I find that it’s great to pull up something from my Kindle app and read.
Allen wrench set: always handy on the show floor.
Fitbit: belt version, not a wrist wearable. Plus extra battery because of course when you’re on the road, that’s when the battery dies, right?
Business cards: more than I think I could possibly need.
Rubber bands: always need a few of these to keep the business cards from spewing all over my backpack pockets.
Cash and a couple of credit cards. I don’t carry much cash, but a little comes in handy. Most everywhere takes cards, credit or debit.
Eyeglass cleaner spray with a mini-cleaning rag
Mini-flashlight: you never know when this will come in handy.
What is an earworm? Basically, it’s song or melody that gets stuck in your head and you have a hard time unsticking it. It goes around and around and won’t go away.
It happens to me all the time. I must have fifty songs bounce around my head on any given day. Some stick for a few moments, others for up to an hour.
Why not come up with a short list of good songs to get stuck in your head that make sense for your next tradeshow appearance?
Let’s start with Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately?”
It’s catchy and gets to the point of any attendee’s message to an exhibitor: yeah, I’ve seen your stuff before, but what have you done for me lately? Plus it’s a classic mid-80s dance video, so there’s that.
Prince – Kiss
Another video from 1986. Popular year, perhaps? Maybe not an actual kiss, but certainly a metaphorical one. You want that connection that leads to becoming either a client or a supplier. And to do that, there’s a certain amount of closeness that must be done.
So why not a metaphorical kiss?
Rolling Stones – Get off My Cloud
Exhibiting at a tradeshow means sharing the stage with hundreds or even thousands of other exhibitors. But in YOUR booth, you’re the master. No other brands allowed. So yeah, get off my cloud, two’s a crowd!
Beatles – Come Together
Now that we’re in the Sixties for a few moments, how about we ask The Beatles for a song? Come Together is certainly a great earworm, and oh-so-appropriate for a large gathering.
Billie Eilish – Bad Guy
Let’s jump up to the present for Billie Eilish and her mega-hit Bad Guy. Not only is it catchy as hell, but at every tradeshow there always seems to be a bad guy. Sometimes it’s the neighbor exhibitor that’s playing loud music in their booth or crowding out your visitors. Or some floor manager that is making it difficult to get your crates delivered to your booth in a timely maner. The good thing is, there are not that many bad guys at tradeshows. Most people are there to have a good time and be a good guy or gal.
Queen: We Will Rock You
Exactly what you’re looking to do at your next tradeshow: rock your visitors.
Got a song stuck in your head?
When I started looking through the analytics to determine the top ten 2018 TradeshowGuy blog posts, I faced somewhat of a dilemma. Many of the “most-viewed” posts of the year are not from 2018. Do I include those or not? Perhaps the best approach is to create two lists: one that includes the most-viewed, and the other narrows the list down to the most-viewed 2018-published blog posts.
Take a look – starting at Number One:
- SWOT Analysis for Tradeshows. This was posted in February of 2015, but still manages to get more traffic than any other post. And interestingly, more than half of those visits come from out of the US.
- 10 Skills Every Tradeshow Event Staffer Should Have. Another one from early2015, it’s a guest post from Margaret Coleback of Vantage Advertising.
- How to Build a Tradeshow-Specific Landing Page. Not too many people create tradeshow-specific landing page, but when they do it can look great and work well. This from December of 2017.
- Gravitee “No Tools” Tradeshow Exhibit Demo. Posted only in October, this floated to the top five!
- 10 Types of Instagram Posts to Use When Exhibiting at a Tradeshow. FromNovember of this year, a look at getting that photo off of your camera onto your Instagram account.
- The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Tradeshow Exhibit RFPs. In case you’re ready to assemble an exhibit RFP, this walks you through the steps. Posted in September 2017.
- Exhibit vs. Booth vs. Stand. Where did these terms come from? From July of this year.
- Breaking the Ice: How to Engage Tradeshow Visitors. Hundreds of people will stream by your booth, many will stop to explore. How do you engage them? December 2015.
- What if Your Tradeshow Booth is Overwhelmed by Visitors? What to do when you have a load of people in your space. November 2018.
- TradeshowGuyMonday Morning Coffee: Publicity Hound Joan Stewart. From October of 2018. Lots of great tips in this interview!
Most-viewed of 2018, posted in 2018
- Gravitee “No Tools” Tradeshow Exhibit Demo
- 10 Types of Instagram Posts to Use When Exhibiting at a Tradeshow
- Exhibit vs. Booth vs. Stand
- What if Your Tradeshow Booth is Overwhelmed by Visitors?
- TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee: Publicity Hound Joan Stewart
- TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee: Robert Strong
- 7 Tips for Boosting Your Tradeshow Booth Traffic. Another guest post, this from Lee Becknell.
- 6 Tradeshow Marketing Trends to Keep an Eye Out For. Guest post from Sam Holzman.
- TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee: Larry Kulchawik. International tradeshow expert.
- TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee: Mike Thimmesch. Tradeshow marketing consultant.
What is an INFLUENCER? To me it’s someone that gets your attention in any number of ways. It could be a video I saw. Could be a book or article or blog post. Or podcast. Or someone I know in my actual, real life as opposed to online.
These are the people whose tweets I read, whose podcasts I listen to, whose blog posts I read, whose newsletters I make sure not to miss. They write and say things that make me sit up and pay attention.
These are listed in no particular order. Some I’ve been aware of for years, others not so long. Some that were influencers ten or fifteen years ago may have popped back into my consciousness to make the list. And in a sense, it’s incomplete because it will always be incomplete. Influencers come and go. The ideas, writings and videos that catch anyone’s attention also wax and wane like the moon. But to me, these are all worth checking out:
Seth Godin: Daily blogger, host of the Akimbo podcast, speaker, author.
Peter Shankman: Founder of HARO (Help Out a Reporter). Speaks and writes frequently. Author of a new book about ADHD, working on a documentary about ADHD. See his TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee interview here.
Scott Monty: Ford Motor Company’s first Social Media Director. Fortune 500 Advisor. Speaker, Pragmatic Futurist.
Jeff Barjorek: Parabola Consulting. Sales trainer, writer, speaker.
Jeffrey Gitomer: Sales trainer, author, speaker, podcaster.
Pamela Slim: Author, business consultant, speaker, coach.
Roy Williams: Former radio salesman who teaches sales, marketing and advertising. His Monday Morning Memo is not to be missed.
Shep Hyken: Hall of Famer in the National Speaker Association. Forward-thinking and best-selling author, blogger, writer and expert on customer service. Here’s his appearance on the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. See his TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee interview here.
Mel White: VP of Business Development at Classic Exhibits. Mel and I have known each other for close to a decade and a half. His insight and knowledge of the tradeshow world, and in particular the latest in tradeshow exhibit materials and trends has always been helpful. Not to mention his crucial help in making both of my books a reality. Here’s his TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee interview.
Terry Brock: Relationship marketing speaker. Another Hall of Famer in the National Speaker Association. Holds forth all the time on the use of technology in communication and presentation. See his TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee interview here.
Denise Wakeman: Blogger, author, writer, digital media marketing expert.
Casey Neistat: NYC-based videographer and story-teller. Ten million YouTube channel followers tells you something. Here’s one of his most-viewed and fun videos:
Gary Vaynerchuk: Social media expert at the highest level. Has parleyed his success with his family’s win business into a multi-million-dollar company, and he’s become an angel investor.
David Newman: Founder of Do It! Marketing. Marketing for Speakers, Authors, Consultants and Experts
Brene Brown: Best-selling author, research professor at University of Houston. Studies, speaks on courage, vulnerability, shape and empathy.
Candy Adams:. Long-time consultant in the tradeshow and event industry, known as The Booth Mom. See her TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee interview here.
Unfinished – more to add later!
Given that we know how many different balls you have to keep in the air, is it even possible to stop feeling overwhelmed when it comes to managing your tradeshow program?
That depends on how you personally deal with things that can come at you like a full-on firehose – we all deal with things a little differently – but let’s explore a few ways that might assist with your state of feeling overwhelmed.
- Plan your day. I don’t do that as often as I should, but when I create a list of todos prior to the start of the day – even the night before – I move through that list with ease and confidence. By taking some quiet time before the day really kicks into high crazy gear, you’ll have a much better handle on the tasks at hand.
- Prioritize. Yes, we get pulled every which way by calls, emails, bosses, meetings, customers and clients and more. This can definitely add stress to your day. Priorities should be made weeks or months ahead of time so that you know your overall, important goals, and use them as a template to figure out your daily priorities.
- Use technology to your advantage. Today’s technology gives us more flexibility than any of our forebears, but only if you use it correctly. Embrace the use of technology and use it where it makes sense (working from home or remotely, anyone?), and avoid getting sucked into another 30 minutes of social media bait-and-response.
Work it out in chunks.Often tradeshow projects come at us in big chunks. Lots of shows, little time between some of them, major and minor changes that need to be addressed. And so on. Carve out the easiest chunk, do that, carve out another chunk, tackle that, and keep going with that idea of parceling out the various bits and pieces instead of getting overwhelmed by the big picture and looming deadlines.
- Know the real deadlines. Tradeshows are closer than they appear in the calendar. The best way to not get overwhelmed by approaching deadlines is to complete a lot of tasks before you ever really need to. For example, one client I work with wants to upgrade their booth in a pretty major way for next year’s show. We could wait another six months to get started, and still have plenty of time. But we ended up scheduling the first planning meeting a mere two months after the show – ten months ahead of the upgrade’s debut – and will likely have it done months ahead of time. No sweat and everyone’s happy.
- Delegate. How much do you really need to do yourself vs. how much to you pass on to someone else? Certain tasks can easily be passed on to someone else. Just make sure you’re not adding to their state of being overwhelmed!
- Write it down. Some people work better with to-do lists in front of them. If that means you, writing things down will give you a visual reminder of what you’ve accomplished and what you have left to do today.
- Clear and concise communication. Whether you’re meeting in person, speaking on the phone, or communicating via email, be as clear and concise as you’re able. Before clicking “send,” read and re-read the email. Take out unnecessary words, edit like a high school English teacher, and then click. Before speaking, know what you’re going to say. Most of us spend time NOT listening but preparing to respond. If you paid more attention to what someone is really saying – and what they really mean – your response will be more thoughtful. And probably less knee-jerk.
What can you do to keep from being overwhelmed in your day to day tradeshow adventures?