How to Crush Any Trade Show or Conference as an Exhibitor

I just got back from a work conference for three days where we absolutely crushed it. We were the definitive best exhibitor, and we got a lot of shout outs from people on Twitter, as well as even just from other exhibitors who were observing what we were doing.

In this article, I want to share with you the secrets that I’ve learned through the years of going to different trade shows and conferences to be the best exhibitor in the hall.

People get this wrong about exhibit halls

The first thing that I think people struggle with when it comes to exhibiting is they struggle to think outside the box and what I mean by that is if you’ve been to any conference lately, you know what it’s like to walk through an exhibit hall. You know how boring it is to just see a bunch of exhibitors that are sitting behind the table, waiting for you to approach their booth or waiting for you to ask them what they do.

Struggle #1: They don’t demonstrate interest in their prospect

The first thing that I think people really make the mistake of is they don’t actually demonstrate interest in their prospect. And the reason why that sucks is because if you’re an attendee at this conference, you want to, and to some extent, learn more about different services. And so when exhibitors kind of take the backseat and wait for people to approach their booths, I think they miss a prime opportunity to really position themselves as fun, opening, and engaging exhibitors.

Struggle #2: Leaving a meaningful impression

The second thing that I think that exhibitors really struggle with is they struggle with creating a particular impression and leaving a meaningful impression with their prospects because they’re behind the table, they’ve already set themselves back. But the next thing that they really struggle with is they don’t really have a clear pitch as to why they are important or why they’re interesting to the prospect that’s stopping by their booth.

That could be because they either lack the materials at their booth or just in general, they are not really being enthusiastic. And so it’s all kind of playing into the way that their impression is as a booth table. But essentially this is something I constantly see exhibitors struggle with. This often shows itself when you look at the exhibitors on the last day of the conference and you see that their energy levels are just incredibly flat, mainly because they’re just tired from the prior days.

So in general, what you have to understand is that if you’re willing to put your team’s bandwidth at a particular trade show or conference, you have to be on that entire time. And the reason why is because you never know who that important prospect is going to be, that’s going to change the trajectory of the ROI for that conference. I’ll never forget, a few years ago at one conference, I went to this one person that I stumbled upon just walking back from the bathroom actually turned out to be a major stakeholder that then became an enterprise-level deal that was close to a six-figure deal for my last business.

And the reason why that deal happened was simply because he had recognized me from my booth earlier in that day. And we struck up a conversation as we were walking to the next event for that particular conference, but it was only by being on and being relevant and aware of my surroundings that I was able to line myself up with that opportunity.

Struggle #3: Very stingy with the way they approach conferences

And then the third mistake that I think exhibitors typically make is that they far too stingy about the ways that they’re approaching conferences. So often I see that exhibitors are doing the absolute bare minimum effort when showing up to a particular exhibit hall. And that makes all the difference, because if you show up with a lame booth, nobody’s going to want to visit your lame booth. And so those are just some things from a mindset standpoint or approach that I want you to think about if you’re considering going to a trade show exhibit.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about some of the key secrets and tips and tricks that I would recommend you do in the case where you want to crush it in your next trade show or conference.

Tip #1: Have an open booth layout

The first tip I can give you is you want to have an open layout to your booth. In other words, if they give you a standard six foot table, move that table back to the very back of the space that they’ve allocated for your company.

The reason why you want to do that is because every other exhibitor is probably going to keep the table exactly where it is placed. And then they’re going to sit behind the table waiting for prospects to approach them. Why is this a problem? Well, it’s a problem because in that particular example, unless the prospect is actually interested in what you have to say, they’re probably not going to approach you.

By moving your table to the very back of the allocated area you open up the rest of the entire exhibit hall space that’s dedicated to you so that you can have you or your team members engaging with prospects and inviting them into your table. So that’s my number one tip right off the bat is that you can stand out by being different by simply changing the layout of what is originally given to you.

Tip #2: Make your table interactive

The second thing you want to do is you want to make your table actually interactive. How can you do this? Well, in my case, the way that I’ve done this across several companies at this point is I have replicated the Apple store. I want you to take a step back and think about the last time you went to an Apple store. How did it make you feel? What did you do at the Apple store?

Well, if you’re anything like me, you probably did this. You noticed as you walked into the Apple store, that there were a ton of great products that were very interesting and that you were compelled to potentially go to one of these stations and at least read the little side card about the particular product.

Maybe you even took your hands and played with the laptop or the iPhone or whatever it was at that station. Why does that work? Well it works because it’s super simple and it’s super open in terms of being inviting to you. So what I’ve done over the years, and I’ve tested this across different industries, it’s worked every single time is I’ve created demo stations that are interactive at these exhibit halls.

Instead of just having the standard sort of booth in which we have some handouts, we have some swags and then everybody goes about their day, what I do instead is I set up demo stations where I literally get an M stand for the Macbooks that we have for display. I get some bluetooth keyboards and mice, and then I actually set up our SaaS tour or product or whatever it is that we’re selling on that particular computer.

Then from there, I have my reps and team members stand next to that particular demo station and invite people to check us out some more. What I’ll typically have on the computer screen is some sort of visually compelling thing that I know is going to draw people in. That could be some sort of data visualization, it could be some other faces of customers who are really happy and smiling, but anything that will catch the attention of the prospect as they’re walking by.

And the reason why this is so powerful is because once you have your sales rep, inviting people to come into your booth and check out your product, they can actually just show instead of tell.

Tip #3: Show not tell

And that’s another pro tip I can give you, which is especially in exhibit halls, the best way that you can really deliver value and demonstrate value to your prospect is to show and not just tell. Everybody else is just going to be telling the prospect about what they do, but not actually showing them the power of your platform.

So in the case where you’re selling a SaaS tool or you’re selling some sort of trinket and things like that, a widget that’s really useful for saving people time or money or whatever, what you can do is you can actually show them that product. That’s the reason why when you go to a local farmer’s market or a craft fair, why people are always showing you those sorts of things.

You can take a lesson from those respective events and festivals and learn exactly from these particular vendors. It’s working because it’s interactive. It’s something where you can feel it, you can see it, you can experience it for yourself. So, that’s another tip I can give you, which is just to make sure that you are showing and not telling.

Tip #4: Make sure your lead capture is super simple

Tip number four that I would tell you is to make sure that your lead capture form is super, super simple. You need to have at least two different ways that you can capture leads. The first way that I recommend is that you have a fishbowl, that’s just gonna be some sort of grand prize drawing that you’re going to put together for the respective participants at that conference, just in case they are running short on time between sessions and they just want to drop in their business card into your fishbowl.

But the second thing you’re going to want to do is you can set up a very simple form where you want to think about your standard qualification form and strip it down to the most important parts. What’s most important for you to do from here is to capture that information and feel like you can capture it in under a minute.

If it ever takes your lead more than a minute to capture that information you’ve already spent too much time and you’re missing out on other leads that are at this conference. Similarly, you are decreasing the motivation that that lead wants to actually input their information because your form is way too long.

Tip #5: Make sure you have clear goals

The fifth tip that I can tell you about exhibiting is to make sure that you have clear goals for each of the team members and responsibilities in terms of what it is that you guys are there to accomplish. For example, in this recent conference that I went to, there were about 400 people. And our goal was to capture at least 40 potential people that would be interested in our product or service.

So the way I thought about that over the three days was I broke down things based off the actual schedules of the conference and what seemed most realistic. For day one, since it was a half day, our goal was to talk to 10, really good prospects. For day two, it was 20 because it was a full day. And then in day three, it was a half day to finish up the conference and so it was another 10.

You’ll want to think in a similar sort of line in terms of what does the conference schedule look like and what is realistic in terms of setting daily goals for the team to hit? The reason why this is so important is because it gives you a clear understanding of whether or not you’re going to be able to work backwards on a positive ROI for going to that respective conference.

I know firsthand that choosing to go to a conference and exhibiting there is a huge, huge time investment. It’s something in which you’re probably bringing somebody else from your company there as well. You are taking time in resources for both of you guys or several of you guys to go to that conference. And it’s something in which you have no guarantee that you’re going to win any business from that conference.

Tip #6: Make sure you have clear goals

Another pro tip that I’ll tell you is become best friends with whoever it is that’s responsible for taking care of exhibitors. You want to make it known early and often that you are on the ball in terms of all the potential scheduling around the conference. The reason why is because more often than not, exhibitors are super unorganized and they’re waiting until the last week to get all their things in order. So when you demonstrate to whoever it is, that’s managing all the exhibitors that you are on the ball and you are really responsible, you will make it so that their life is easier as well.

And the reason why that’s powerful is because it allows you to have some leeway in terms of the sorts of things that you do. For example, at this most recent conference, sometimes I was just walking around and at some different side tables where there might be some different snack stations. I was just leaving our flyers there and nobody said a word about it.

In fact, I saw several people take our flyers from that and then come back to our booth later on that day. No other exhibitors really did that or even bothered and the exhibitor lead who was responsible for all the exhibitors had nothing to say in terms of negative feedback about that. So you really get some leeway in terms of the sorts of things that you can do when you’re exhibiting to really stand out from the rest of the pack.

Tip #7: Find a way to engage your prospect on social media

Another pro tip that I can tell you from my years of going to different conferences is make sure you have some sort of interactive way to engage your prospect on social media. It is a really great time for you to create some user-generated content. What I mean by that is, let’s say for example, you have some swag that you’re giving out and it’s a really nice t-shirt. Well, what you’ll want to do is after the person engages in your demo and fills out the form, you’re going to ask them if they’d like a t-shirt and then from there, what they’re going to probably say is, sure why not?

And from there, what you’ll do is you’ll have them hold up the t-shirt, you’ll take a picture and then you’ll tag them on Twitter and then you’ll do it with the conference hashtag. And the reason why that’s super useful is because it’s going to be something that they’re probably going to like or retweet and it’s also going to dominate the respective conference hashtag that whoever the organizers are have put on.

And the reason why that’s important is because if you are the most prevalent exhibitor in terms of social media, you are also going to be the one that catches all the people that are scrolling through the conference’s hashtag to try to be part of the action of whatever it is that’s most interesting at this conference.

Most of the time, the people that see you on social media will then come back to you at your booth later on in the conference or that we even just start following you and then interacting with you there. I’ve gotten some quality leads in the past, simply by absolutely dominating the conference hashtags of different conferences I’ve been to.

Ideally, it’s perfect if you can have the person actually tweet out from their own account, because then you can just retweet from your company account. But sometimes they’re not as tech savvy or you’re short on time so it can be fine to just take a picture and then tag them on Twitter.

Tip #8: Bring more energy than other people

The last tip that I’ll share with you today is simply bring more energy than other people. It’s super straightforward, but a lot of people, when they’re exhibiting just start giving up on the last day, they show signs of lower energy and it really shows to the prospects as well. You can simply win in an exhibit hall by having the most energy of an entire bunch of people.

Consistently, I have been part of young startups that are the new kids on the block, and that’s kind of how we position ourselves in exhibit halls. And it’s a really refreshing feeling for prospects because they leave your booth feeling like they’re really energized, they feel like they’ve learned something new and they feel really good about your product and company as well.

If you can help somebody feel warm and fuzzy after leaving your exhibit booth, then it means you’ve been successful, whether or not they become a customer later on.

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