Whether you’re looking to exhibit or to attend, committing to two or three eight-hour days of conferences and trade shows can be intimidating. With so many people to meet, panels to attend, and exhibitors to shop, the opportunities can quickly become overwhelming.
After years of experience both hosting and attending conferences and trade shows, we decided to compile a list of tips and tricks for you to make any conference or trade show an easy and enjoyable experience.
Network, Network, Network
One of the primary reasons people attend conferences and/or trade shows is the opportunity to make valuable, lasting relationships with like-minded professionals in your industry. Thousands of people convene under one roof to discuss a common interest. So why not chat with as many as possible?
Tricks for Attendee: The beauty of a conference and trade show is that everyone is there for the same reason. Everyone is interested in learning how to grow and better their business and in making valuable business connections; YOU could be the person with the skills, products or services they are looking for. While waiting for panel sessions to start, introduce yourself to the person to your left and right. Make sure to attend all networking or happy hour events. Be outgoing in the various lines you may have to wait in (badge pick-up, coffee, lunch, etc.). Connect with other attendees at the booths you visit – you likely have similar business needs!
Tricks for Exhibitor: Who would you rather talk to: the person sitting behind a table, staring at their phone or the person having a lively conversation and laughing? The latter, of course! As an exhibitor, it is absolutely imperative that you be outgoing with attendees. Draw them into your booth, engage them in conversation, learn about their businesses and challenges so you can deliver solutions to help them succeed. The most popular booths create a unique experience for their guests. For example, in exchange for contact information, you could raffle off one of your products. This is a great way to draw your prospective customers to your booth. Everyone at a trade show wants to talk, but as the exhibitor, it’s up to you to create a welcoming atmosphere within the pipe and draped walls of your booth to attract your buyers.
Pro Tip: You Can Never Have Too Many Business Cards
There’s nothing worse than making that perfect connection and then realizing you have no business cards at the ready. Your business cards allow you to quickly exchange not only contact information in a chaotic environment. When approaching so many new faces daily, attention to detail is key; not only do business cards display professionalism, but they also allow you to take individualized notes. But be warned – you want to ensure that you’ve created a valuable connection before you starting handing out your card. If you haven’t made a connection that people will want to revisit, you might as well be throwing that card (and the money spent paying for it) in the garbage. When done correctly, however, business cards will be your best friend; so trust us, stock up before the event or you’ll wish you had.
Schedule Your Days in Advance
With so much information packed into every day of a conference, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and miss something crucial to your business. The key to success is to plan out your days in advance so you have a sense of everything that is taking place at the event and what sessions, exhibitors, parties, etc. you would like to check out to gain the most from your experience to reap the most benefits for your business. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!
Tricks for Attendee: Scour online resources. Review exhibitor directories, read speaker bios, and map out session panels to create a loose itinerary of everything you want to take in while at the conference and expo. Some conference organizers will even provide apps or software allowing you to curate your own agenda. Don’t miss the chance the hear a speaker you admire or to demo a product you have had read about simply because you did not know when it was happening.
Tricks for Exhibitor: Be savvy about how you plan your days at the event. Consider your location. For example, if your booth is near the keynote room, you will know that there will be a lot of traffic going by your booth just before and after the keynote speech. Capitalize on the opportune timing for maximum exposure and make sure your booth is fully staffed and energized! A lot of exhibitors also take the time to schedule appointments to demo their products or services with important prospective buyers at their booths. Appointments ensure that you will get face time with your top buyers.
Pro Tip: Use an Electronic Calendar to Keep Your Schedule at Your Fingertips
If there is no conference application available, taking the time to schedule panels, meetings with exhibitors/attendees, parties, etc. onto your Google, Outlook, or Yahoo calendar will ensure your schedule is at your fingertips since the calendars will sync with your phone. Set reminder notifications to pop up 10 minutes in advance to make sure you aren’t late for items on your calendar!
Taking notes can make or break your post-conference experience. Everyone thinks they will remember what they learn because it is so important and at the forefront of your mind when you hear it. But in reality, trade shows last for days and by the time they end, your brain is ready for a break. Taking notes gives you time to decompress and revisit the subject at a later time.
Tricks for Attendee: With the whirlwind of information everywhere you turn, it is easy to get overwhelmed and forget important tidbits in the process. Surveys show the primary reason people attend conferences is for education. A few easy tactics for taking notes quickly include, writing in the conference program guide, taking notes on your laptop, or capturing photos of slides on your phone. Evernote is also a great, interactive note taking platform that allows for cross-device syncing and sharing. By taking notes, you can curate the information you are receiving in order to apply it to your specific business needs.
Tricks for Exhibitor: Being a successful salesperson is all about the personal touch. When exhibiting at a trade show, take notes about your prospective customers. Did someone make a specific issue known at the event? Reach out with a unique solution to the problem. Creating that personalized customer service goes a long way to building customer loyalty, and it all begins with having notes on your prospect.
Keep Your Energy Levels Up
Trade shows and conferences are a marathon, not a sprint; it’s important to pace yourself throughout the day and make time to rest and rejuvenate. Here are some quick tips for sustaining your energy:
Pro Tip: Practice 5, 10, or 15 Minutes of Mindfulness a Day to Recharge
Taking just 5, 10 or 15 minutes a day to silence your phone, shut your computer, sit quietly, and close your eyes can be exactly what you need to feel recharged and reenergized. As busy humans, we are constantly multitasking and overstimulated by the world around us, and quite frankly, it can be exhausting for our minds! Introducing a few moments of peace, free from distraction can help to reduce stress, improve concentration, and increase happiness. Resting your body is important, but it’s equally as important to rest your mind.
Whether you enjoy conferences as an attendee or exhibitor, it is imperative that you dress appropriately. We are sure you have heard the saying “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Whether you are just starting out or an industry veteran, dress as the professional you want to be viewed as. First impressions are often made within the first seven seconds someone meets you. Also keep in mind that you will undoubtedly be on your feet for a majority of the day, so wear something you can get around in with relative ease. In addition, most conferences will provide guests with a folder, bag, etc., to carry one’s belongings; however, these things can run out or be misplaced throughout the day. Make sure to bring your own bag or briefcase just in case. You don’t want to be fumbling around with all your swag and flyers while trying to shake hands with new business contacts.
Pro Tip: When in Doubt, Overdress
If you are unsure about how much to dress up, keep in mind that it is always easier to remove a blazer or tie to dress down your outfit than to find yourself needing those same items and not have them on hand and feeling underdressed for the occasion.