Lessons from a First-Time Trade Show Exhibitor

Forbes is always a great source of business news and, at forbes.com, we just read a nice article from the perspective of a first time trade show exhibitor. It’s a good look at knowledge gained through experience… and a reminder that we can learn from the experiences of others. The author is Dana Ostomel, founder of Deposit a Gift. You can read it in its entirety here. However, we have selected out some of the highlights for you:

Exhibiting at a trade show is a very different experience from attending a trade show. You have to be “on” and organized in a completely different way. We recently exhibited at our first major tradeshow, and boy did we learn a lot! Rather than the experience just benefiting our company, I wanted to share what we learned and open up a dialogue to make us all better exhibitors.


Before the Show

Make Cheat Sheets

Organization is the name of the game. You want one cheat sheet for setup so that you don’t forget anything and which includes technical instructions to avoid malfunctions. Create a second cheat sheet for the day-of.


Create a List of ‘Pick Up Lines’

We created a list of ‘pick up lines’ to help us initiate conversations. There is a real skill to connecting with someone in a matter of seconds. Sometimes, even a simple, “Good morning” with eye contact and a smile will lure people into your booth. Seriously, someone actually told me they stopped at our booth because I was the only one who made eye contact.

We learned that our premium was our best ice-breaker. We had mints with the slogan ‘A Fresh Approach To Fundraising’ on them, and our best pick up line turned out to be ‘Would you like some mints?’


Make a Strategy in Advance

Something we will certainly consider next time is making a game plan ahead of time. Knowing your ‘prime times’ for traffic flow is key. For us, the day consisted of four main windows during which the attendees had a break between workshops and would walk around to check out the booths. This is important to know because it determines when you need to be forward facing and focused.


During the Show

Don’t Pitch to Competitors

Within the first half hour, a man came up to our booth asking about Deposit a Gift. We were so excited that we started talking about our site’s benefits without assessing who we were speaking to. As the conversation progressed, we discovered he was a competitor. We recommend not pitching your company to competitors, so be sure to ask whom they are representing before engaging.

However, taking the time to walk around and visit other exhibitors is something you definitely want to do during a break. You can pick up important tips for upcoming trade shows by observing what other booths do well, or not so well.


Write Notes on Business Cards

At a trade show, you talk to hundreds of people in a span of a few hours. It is easy to forget particular conversations you had throughout the day. To avoid this, write down parts of your conversation on the person’s business card. Also, write down ways they could use your services based on their concerns or questions discussed. Referencing key points from your conversation in a follow-up email will make it easier for them to remember you; this way, you can pick up the conversation where you left off to better engage them in a follow-up meeting.


After the Show

Organize Your New Contacts… Quickly!

It is important to go through the business cards while the day is fresh in your mind. Sort the cards and make two piles to help you prioritize. One stack should be for important contacts that you should reach out to immediately, and the other stack is for less urgent contacts. It is still important to get to the second stack, but it is more crucial to reach out to those contacts you had special conversations with that day.


Follow Up

Once you have your business cards organized, immediately enter them into a spreadsheet or database to guide your follow-up.

So, what about you? Do you have any key takeaways from your exhibiting experiences? Definite must-do’s or major fails we could all learn from? Please leave your advice in the comments!

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