Successful tradeshow tips for attendees and exhibitors

October 11, 2005
By: Pat Lee

Getting the most from a tradeshow takes more effort than just being there. Following a few common tips, both attendees and exhibitors can maximize the tradeshow experience.

Photo courtesy of 2004 FABTECH® International

A tradeshow is the ultimate gathering, networking, and presentation opportunity for any industry—theplace where the top buyers, sellers, and technical experts come together under one roof. It is the most efficient place to be if you are a buyer pondering a new equipment purchase, because there's nowhere you can so easily review competing products and the companies that make them. And if you're a seller, there's no better showcase for your products than in a tradeshow, where they will be seen by more people in three, four, or five days than you can call on in a year.

The tradeshow environment—as dynamic and valuable as it is—also can be a disastrous place to try to buy or sell, if you don't know how to make the most of your time before, during, and after the event. This is not a business-as-usualexperience. Here are seven tips on how to make the most of the show.

1. Buyers — Advance Planning Spells Success.

Most tradeshows have planning tools for preregistered attendees. These tools may be available through the show's Web site or by mail or e-mail. The purpose of the planning tools is to help you plan your visit before you arrive. The least efficient way to worka tradeshow—especially a large show—is to show up and walk up and down every aisle from one side to the other. The most efficient way is advance planning.

Set objectives for your show visit. What products or services do you need to research? What problems are you trying to solve in your shop? Is there a drawing or sample part you can take with you to illustrate what you need to do?

Plot a course that will enable you to reach those objectives using the fewest number of steps. That means reviewing available exhibitors and the products they offer, creating your own list of questions/topics for discussion with each one, perhaps setting advance appointment times with the most crucial ones, and then creating your schedule of must-see exhibitors.

2. Attendees — You Go to a Tradeshow to Meet People.

You can view a product catalog online. Tradeshows are about people-to-people, face-to-face interactions. Don't be shy. If you want to meet someone, go up to that person and introduce yourself. You'll never have a better opportunity. If you want to be sure to meet relevantpeople, see tip No.1.

Wear your name badge on your right side, high up on your lapel or clipped to your collar. When you shake hands with someone, that person is looking at your right shoulder, so make it easy for him to see your name.

3. Attendees — Take Advantage of Opportunities for Free Advice.

Tradeshows always offer educational opportunities. Some are free, some charge a fee. Where else can you listen to advice from and ask questions of a "consultant" for free?

Don't discount how valuable it can be to hear what other attendees have to say in these sessions. The guy who sits down next to you, or who asks the speaker a question, may have the same problem you're trying to solve, or he recently may have solved the same problem, and you can pick up practical advice you'd never get anywhere else.

Exhibitors bring their technical experts to their booths. It is more and more common to see design engineers, computer software programmers, and materials experts in the exhibits. The days of booths being staffed with nothing but order-takers are long gone. These technical experts sometimes can help you solve a problem right on the spot and send you home looking like a hero!

When you meet an expert, or get insight into a situation, don't forget to ask that person for his or her business card. Take a minute after leaving to write on the back of the card what you spoke about and/or how this person might help you in the future. The basis of all good networking—and all great problem-solving—is having a network of experts you can call on in your time of need. It's also possible you could meet someone who might just be your next lead to a new job.

4. Attendees — Travel Light.

Leave the briefcase at home. Bring a business card holder instead. Don't load yourself down with paper from vendors. Let them scan your badge card and send you information. Collect a business card for follow-up in case you don't receive the information you requested. And write on the back of each card you do collect whatyou expect from that person and when.

Remember, you're at the show to have many conversations and learn what people can do for you. You don't need stuffweighing you down. Spare your back; you'll be in a better mood, and you'll be more effective.

5. Attendees and Exhibitors — Don't Answer Your Cell Phones.

At least don't answer cell phones while engaged on the show floor. It's rude to interrupt a live conversation to take a call from someone else. Turn your phone off or put it on vibrate and let voice mail get your calls. Check the messages periodically, as needed, when you're sitting down with a cup of coffee or over lunch.

6. Exhibitors — Promote Your Presence at the Show in Advance.

Show management can bring attendees to the hall, but it's the effort you make to tell potential customers why your booth should be on their "must-see" lists that will make them come into your booth. People take the time to attend shows to meet potential suppliers and select those who seem to be ready to go that extra mile for them. The amount of effort you put into communicating with potential customers before the show, as well as the effort you put forth on the show floor to meet people and explain what you can do for them, is what will make you a preferred vendor.

7. Exhibitors — Have a Plan, and Work the Plan.

Everyone who works in your booth needs to know why they are there, what your company's expectations are, and exactly what they need to do to achieve them. They need to be trained in how to qualify a lead and prepare that lead for meaningful follow-up. Staffing a tradeshow booth is hard work, but it can be exciting and very rewarding.

What happens after the show is just as important as what happens at the show. Amazingly, more than 75 percent of all leads generated at tradeshows neverreceive follow-up. And follow-up in today's world means much more than sending out a generic cover letter and product catalog. Attendees come to your booth with specific problems to solve. Your follow-up must focus on the solutions they need, and it must be timely. The savviest exhibitors begin follow-ups during the show so that customers' requests for more information arrive within just a few days of their visits to the booth.

Pat Lee

FABTECH Marketing Manager