Trade ShowsTradeshows can be valuable opportunities for businesses looking to attract new clients or build brand recognition, but they cost a lot of money to attend, and will pull you and your team away from work for several days. If you aren’t prepared with a plan in place, you could end up wasting that time and money.

As you gain more experience attending tradeshows, you’ll naturally learn which techniques and approaches are most effective, but you’ll still need a plan in place for your first attempt. So what should you do to make the most out of your first tradeshow?

Attending Your First Tradeshow

These are some of the most important tips to make your first tradeshow worthwhile:

  1. Set measurable goals. According to Magnum Systems, “Without a set of measurable goals for your tradeshow, you won’t have a clear plan of attack to direct your actions. More than that, you won’t have a gauge to determine whether or not your attendance was successful.” Before you book the table, before you design the display, and before you purchase airline tickets, make sure you have some goals in place to guide the rest of your strategy.
  2. Invest in your display. Common advice says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what tradeshow attendees are going to be doing. Your display is going to be the first thing your visitors see, and it’s going to determine whether or not they stop by your booth to learn more about what you have to offer. Your display needs to be unique enough to stand out from the crowd, and compelling enough to convince people to give you a few minutes of their time.
  3. Incorporate social media. Most modern tradeshows thrive on social media, relying on a handful of hashtags so that all tradeshow attendees can stay up-to-date and see what’s going on around them. If you don’t have a social media strategy as part of your tradeshow plan, you’ll miss out on some crucial opportunities for not only visibility, but engagement with the other participants. Make sure to use both your corporate brand and the personal brands of the individuals attending.
  4. Collect information on all your attendees. In the words of Marlys Arnold, “Tradeshow leads are like milk—they have a short shelf life, so don’t waste valuable time.” When you start talking to someone, get their contact information immediately. This will give you a pool of information that you can use to follow up with in the days to come. Without this information, even a good conversation is practically worthless, since you won’t get the chance to talk to that person again.
  5. Socialize before and after the main event. Most tradeshows have one or more “main events” that draw people in, such as a lecture or a community forum. These are prime opportunities to mingle and meet people, since they’ll be around both before and after the event.
  6. Give visitors something of value. Booths that offer something valuable, even if it’s something small, always get more attendees than booths with nothing. The conventional route is to offer a promotional product, or enter your attendees into a giveaway for a big-ticket item, but feel free to get creative here.
  7. Get personal. It’s easier to sell to people when you have some kind of personal connection to them—even if it’s somewhat fleeting. Your conversations at the tradeshow booth should have a strong personal resonance to them; don’t read from a script, and don’t sound overly professional or corporate. Instead, talk to these people casually, like you would a friend or family member, and get to know them a bit before making a pitch.

Reflection and Preparation

After you have your first tradeshow under your belt, the others you attend in the future will be easier to prepare for. Spend some time reviewing everything you did to prepare for this show, and analyze which tactics landed and which ones fell flat. With your assessment, you’ll be able to plan the next tradeshow even more efficiently—and you’ll have the experience to make your presence even more effective.