“If you build it, they will come.” The line is from the movie Field of Dreams – a fantasy, but many people seem to think this about having a booth at a trade show. If we have a booth, everyone will stop by. Alas, that is seldom the case. Now I don’t plan to get into the aesthetics of booth design or how to make it appealing, or the value of giveaways – which I’ve never had use for but too many others I respect swear have value. Regardless of the appeal of your booth, preparation is key to success.

I break this prep into two pieces – booth prep, and attendee prep. Booth prep is how your booth team responds to passersby. Attendee prep is how your team walking the floor does so effectively.

Booth prep:

I’ve always been a proponent of a brief Booth Camp before the start of any trade show you exhibit at. This involves gathering every person who will work the booth – or hang around it – for a 20 minute session to get them all on the same page.

1) Hone their pitch. You have about 7 seconds to tell passersby what you do, before you lose their interest. Be able to succinctly describe what your company does, and the value in this.

2) Have an engagement strategy. Many people like to open up with a question – “How do you do this…? Does your company need X?” This will engage some, and intimidate others. Some launch right into their pitch. “Hi, We help owner-managed companies grow.” This cuts losses immediately because the uninterested move on – but you may lose the opportunity to engage. A third approach is an attempt to draw passers-by into conversation “Glad to be in here when it’s so cold outside today.” None of these will always work, but some are better suited to your personality than others, so do what works for you. Or mix them up.

3) Make eye contact. None of the above have a chance if you don’t lock eyes.

4) Record leads. If you depend on sifting through business cards later, you’ll be amazed how many people run out at trade shows. Or have two-sided cards with no room to scribble notes. Have a simple lead sheet to fill in name, company, phone, best time to follow up, and any notes on special interest. This enables tracking the leads to see how many result in meetings or sales later on, to truly judge the value of the trade show.

Attendee prep:

1) Have a purpose. This could be to identify suppliers, meet potential clients, or just gather competitive info.

2) Review the list of exhibitors. Know who is there, and who you want to see.

3) Use this list to schedule meetings in advance. If there are half a dozen key contacts, send them an e-mail asking to meet for 15 minutes – no more – and set a time. Don’t schedule meetings back to back – they will run late or run long, and you don’t want to be the one running late. Try not to schedule more than 5 in a day.

4) Be certain to drop by to say hi to people you know. This establishes your presence, and give you something to discuss later. If they aren’t there drop your card at their booth and scribble “Missed you – we’ll catch up later”.

And now you know why people say “I’m working the show”. Now make your presence at the show work for you.

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