Communicate for Profit with Your Convention Exhibit

Having an exhibit at a convention or trade show is a major opportunity to position your company or Association as a real player in your industry. Sure, it costs money, but it can become a major moneymaker for your organization. (It’s also a big convenience for your members and suppliers.)

Here’s how to make the most of your investment.

  • Use your exhibit to introduce new products and services, and talk about them to your clients and members.
  • Select a theme for your booth. Make it fun to visit.
  • Meet the press. Your industry publications are always at these meetings, so talk up your organization to them. You might hand out press kits and hold a press conference to announce important new developments.
  • Look good. Color, lights, working models, movement such as a demo video are good draws. Lighting is really important. Be sure your booth area is well lighted and friendly, even if you have to bring and set up the lights yourself.
  • Offer a little something extra to draw people to your booth. Candy is always a great attraction, or really useful giveaways. Avoid junk.
  • Build your contact list. Having people leave a business card to register for a drawing or to receive additional literature or samples is one good way. Devise a method for keeping track of the different categories of contacts, perhaps making notes on the backs of business cards or filing them in different envelopes or pockets. Impress on your booth staff the importance of getting detailed follow-up information in the most graceful manner possible without irritating the prospect.
  • Limit handouts. Don’t give out quantities of literature to casual browsers. Instead, take their cards and offer to send material later. (Many conference-goers acquire bags of flyers that get thrown away without being read.)
  • Appoint a “host.” Make sure at least one person stands in front of your area to invite people in, especially if you have a smaller exhibit. This is much more successful than just sitting behind a table and smiling.
  • Attract attention, especially if your product is not yet well known. One woman had a new cookery line, but nobody was coming to her area. Deciding to do a “Fripp,” she ran out and bought a striking hat. When passers-by commented, “Nice hat,” she would reply, “Yes, and my cookware is even nicer. Come in and see it.” In a short time, she brought $13 million in business to her company.
  • Train your staff so they know exactly what you want them to say and do. Only then can they represent your organization in a confident and informative manner. Many innovative groups like the American Payroll Association are now offering special training for the booth staff at their trade shows. Remember that they represent YOU!
  • Schedule enough staff for your exhibit so they can take shifts. You don’t want to miss opportunities with a closed booth when your people need to eat or take a comfort break.
  • Set clear guidelines for your staff:
    • NO eating in the booth area. (Be sure you’ve scheduled adequate breaks.)
    • NO unprofessional chatting among themselves. (They need to be totally focused on approaching booth visitors.)
    • NO uncomfortable shoes, no matter how stylish. (It is hard to smile if your feet are killing you.)
  • Hold a last-minute pep rally for everyone working in the booth. Then go sell yourself and your organization!Steve Miller, a Seattle-based trade show expert and fellow National Speakers Association member, offers three more important points:
  • What gets measured gets done. Over 90% of exhibitors have no measurable objectives for a trade show. But if you don’t, how can you tell if the show was successful? Exactly how many leads or sales are you looking for?
  • Help the attendees cull themselves out. You can’t talk to everybody, and not everybody is a qualified prospect. Design clear, benefit-based signage that helps the attendees immediately determine whether they should speak with you or not.
  • “Extend” the show one more day by observing the 48-hour Follow-Up Rule. Your leads are hot, yet the vast majority of exhibitors will fail to follow-up immediately and effectively. Make sure ALL leads are followed up within 48-hours after the show and your results will soar. (To which I’ll add: personalize! Refer to the visitors’ needs and wants in your letters and e-mails if possible. Here’s where the notes made by your booth staff are invaluable.)

Your trade-show exhibit should be part of your overall marketing strategy, not an isolated element. Remember that your purpose is both to initiate new relationships and resell and nurture the customers and members you already have. This is your chance to communicate by working one-on-one with the people you want to serve. Make the most of it!