Exhibiting at an exhibition or conference for the first time can be quite a daunting prospect - especially if you're a new start-up business or presenting a concept for the first time. You'll probably be bouncing between exhilaration and exhaustion for most of the day, but hopefully these top tips will ensure you make it through to the end of the event!
Don't go it alone
If at all possible, try to have somebody else come with you - especially if you have a stand or booth at the event. If you're the only person, there probably won't be any opportunity to leave your stand without potentially missing out on customers. If you do manage to persuade somebody to help you, make sure you spend time with them explaining what you want to achieve at the event, and briefing them on what it is that you do, what message you are trying to portray.
Have an idea of the visitor numbers expected (this is often called 'footfall') and make sure you are realistic with your flier, freebie and business card stocks - ask in advance if there are storage areas that can be used, and if not make sure you have a floor-length tablecloth which allows you to store boxes under your table, if you have one.
Also be realistic about how many people you hope to interact with. If you are at an exhibition with an expected footfall of 5,000 people and you only have one person on the stand, it's very unlikely you will even manage to speak to half of the visitors.
Comfort first, fashion second
In my opinion this should be #1 - it's absolutely essential that you can be comfortable for the duration of the event, and this means that you don't wear a brand new pair of heels or shoes which pinch your toes. Make sure your footwear are comfortable - perhaps consider using cushioned insoles - and also make sure your clothing is comfortable - be prepared for both hot and cold, as air conditioned halls can sometimes be quite cold.
Make sure that if you need to be able to carry things in a pocket, that you have pockets in whatever you're planning to wear. If pockets aren't possible consider a hip bag or similar to ensure your hands are free.
Perch if you can!
Standing all day is exhausting, and sooner or later even with the comfortable, cushioned soles your feet are going to start to hurt. Wherever possible, try to perch - tall bistro chairs are great for this or perching stools - which allows you to talk with people while giving the impression that you are standing.
Eat and drink when you can
It's often really difficult to get time to go and eat or drink while you are at an event, especially if you are responsible for a stand or booth. Try to have a stash of cereal bars and similar (preferably those which don't have strong flavours!) so that you can have a quick bite to eat in between visitors. I usually take a whole tray of small water bottles, or one larger bottle, which I stash near my stand - it's ideal for quickly grabbing a drink in between talking to people - don't underestimate how much you'll be talking and how quickly you'll become dehydrated!
It's a great idea to schedule up your social media in advance, and many tools such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social allow you to do that without much difficulty. Keep an eye on social media while you are at the event - set up streams which follow the main event hashtags and reach out to people proactively! Ideally, have some way of marking individuals for follow up after the event, so that you can identify people of interest from your social streams.
It sounds silly, but make sure you have everything that you are likely to need with you at the exhibition - lay it all out the night before, check it off on a list, whatever works best for you. Things which I always forget but tend to need include:
- Pens and paper
- Phone battery pack/USB cables
- Throat sweets
- Promotional material (business cards, fliers, etc)
- Post-it notes
Tell people you'll be there
Exhibitions and conferences are a great place to meet new customers, but they are also a good way to reconnect with existing clients. Why not invite your clients past and present to the event, and let them know your stand number? It's also nice to see a familiar face in a sea of strangers!
Plan time for setting up and packing down
Exhibiting can be tiring enough, it really doesn't help if you arrive late and stressed! Make sure you plan plenty of time to set up before the exhibition, and likewise that you prepare time afterward to pack down your stand, tidy away your equipment and get packed up in your vehicle (or shipped out with a courier!).
Clear your schedule for following up
Exhibiting at a conference is pointless if you don't actively follow up your leads. Make sure you clear your schedule for a sensible amount of time, or have your sales team primed, to ensure you can capitalise on the leads you might pick up as a result of the event. If you don't have a Customer Relationship Management system then get one! Make sure you have a way of tracking interactions with your customers, and are able to show what interactions led to sales - if you track the value you can show the true return on investment of the event.
I hope these tips are useful, and look forward to hearing how your exhibitions have gone!