Trade Shows: How to Get in and ROCK!

Whether you’re a designer, planner or makeup artist, there are tons of trade shows you can attend that aim to help you improve your skills. There are also tons of trade shows aimed at the public that can help you get clients.

Here are our tips on how you can get in at a trade show, and how to ensure you aren’t wasting your time!

Pick and choose the right shows for your business

There are literally thousands of shows, and you can’t be at all of them. Make a list of the shows you want to participate in, then narrow down that list. Some elements you want to consider include:

  • Cost of exhibiting
  • The attendee profile (target audience for the show)
  • Other exhibitors who will be present
  • The time & location of the event
  • The total expected attendee count

If you exhibit at a show where you’re out of your league, you’ll seem like an amateur. If, on the other hand, you are a seasoned professional attending an amateur trade show, you’ll come off as snooty.

Set a goal for the show

What do you want to accomplish by attending this trade show? You should be able to answer this question. I know ultimately you want to generate new clients, but how are you hoping to do this? Your goals might be to:

  • Collect names for a mailing list
  • Schedule free client consultations after the show
  • Network with other vendors

Whatever your primary goal is, make sure you have one! This will help you keep focused when you’re planning your booth setup & putting together your day-of gameplan.

trade show goal setting

Set up a professional booth

Once you’ve registered to be a vendor at a trade show, it’s time to plan your exhibit. Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of the show:

Whatever show you’re attending, you likely won’t be supplied with much more than a table and a couple of banquet chairs. It’s up to you to bring a professional backdrop, table covers, extra chairs, etc.

Have good signage

People shouldn’t have to try and guess who you are or what you do. Make sure you have banners printed that clearly show your company name & logo, and maybe your tagline as well. This will help you by ensuring only people who are interested in your services swing by your booth.

Plan ahead

If you want to have any type of electronic display, check with the event organizers as quickly as possible to make sure you’ll have a power source, WiFi… whatever you might need. Don’t take these for a given… you might need to make special arrangements, like renting a TV or bringing your own extension cords.

Make it comfortable and FUN!

When people attend trade shows, they walk around dozens or hundreds of vendor booths. If yours doesn’t stand out, not many attendees will choose to stop by. So think outside the box and give people a reason to stop by!

  • Having extra comfortable seating in your booth where people can get away from a crowd for a few minutes will encourage attendees to do just that. And while they’re sitting down, you can engage them in a conversation!
  • Everyone likes free stuff. Give away swag or other tokens that people will like, and that will help you stand out. Stuff like branded tote bags, USB sticks, reusable water bottles, etc. are always useful and are a sure way for people to remember you!
  • Offering free food is also a great way to get extra visitors. Just be careful of food allergies, and don’t offer anything too messy!
  • Make it a game! Some of the best trade shows booths I’ve visited had cool games to engage stoppers-by. Have visitors spin a prize wheel, participate in an online draw if you have a computer handy… I even once saw a booth that had a “dunk tank” where you could make one of their reps fall into a pool of water by answering a trivia question. Those are the vendors you remember!

Remember to have fun at your trade show

Get adequate show staff

Trade shows are long and exhausting! Attendees might only be around for an hour or so… but you’ll be there from dusk ‘til dawn! It’s impossible for you to do it alone.

So plan ahead and make sure you have adequate show staff to help you out on the big day. If your company is large enough that you have employees, ask them to pitch in and attend the show. They’ll likely be able to sell your services as well as you can.

Your other option is to hire show staff to help you out. You can hire individuals for the day off of job boards, or go through a marketing or advertising agency who have employees for this very purpose.

Whatever show staff you hire, just make sure:

  • They are informed enough about your services to be able to answer simple questions;
  • They are lively and enthusiastic. (TIP: try book your show staff in 4-hour shifts, MAX, and give them a few breaks within that time)
  • They are polite and friendly. The last thing you want is for someone who is representing your brand to just stand there and ignore potential clients!

On the day of…

You’ve set up your booth and your staff is ready to sell your services. The doors to the show open… here we go!

Acknowledge people!

A lot of trade show attendees will be shy and hesitant to come up to a booth without a warm welcome. If anyone so much as glances in your direction, make them feel welcomed with a smile and a friendly “Hi there!” It can go a long way, trust me!

Acknowledge people

Avoid the up-front sales pitch

This will just scare people away. You have two ears and one mouth, so try to listen twice as much as you talk. When you first engage with a customer, try asking him questions that relate back to your services, instead of shoving a brochure in his hand and taking down their information for a consultation right off the bat.

Don’t waste people’s time

If you’ve done your job right with cool giveaways and a fun booth, you’ll attract all sorts of people to your booth. Not all these people will be potential customers—or even remotely interested in your services—and that’s okay. As long as you’ve done your job and picked a good show, there will be loads of potential customers there, so don’t waste time trying to sell to those who don’t want it.

When you first greet people, try to have a greeting that will allow you to quickly gauge the person’s interest. If they aren’t your target client, politely excuse yourself (encourage them to take advantage of your freebies anyway!) and move on to the next person.

Don't waste people's time

Note: You might have the urge to ask those who aren’t interested in your services to move away from your booth. Don’t do this. A busy booth is more attractive to attendees than a “dead” one, so keep as many people around as possible!

If you follow these tips, your trade show could be a huge success! Good luck and let us know how it goes!

For more business tips like this, check out the business archives section of Pointers for Planners. It’s full of great stuff to help get your career off the ground!

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