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10 tips for getting the most out of exhibiting at a trade show

Looking for a cost-effective way to introduce yourself to new markets? Exhibiting at a trade show is a great option to consider. Don't despair if you're new to the world of trade shows; we've got 10 quick tips that'll keep your business from taking a dive on the big day.

1. Remember the details. These, along with the paperwork, are a challenge for new exhibitors, says Sheryl Sookman, a principal at The MeetingConnection.

Casey Seidenberg, director of promotions and events for Guru.com, agrees: "There are many forms and papers to weed through to get to the bottom of what's allowed and what has to be done in order to receive approvals."

The secret to keeping track of all the details and paperwork? Create a trade show notebook. Use a tab system to set up sections for contracts, invoices, contact names and numbers, travel arrangements, and general show information. Keep written notes of all phone conversations, including the date, the person you spoke with, contact information, location and a brief outline of any agreements made.

2. Set goals for the show. "Develop clear goals for participation at each exhibition and write them down," says Seidenberg. "It's important to remember what your ultimate goals are for the show so that appropriate decisions can be made. It's too easy to get busy and lose site of the big picture."

3. Read the exhibitor manual, cover to cover. In it, you'll find a wealth of information: forms to set up booth services (furniture, electricity, carpet and so on), show hours, sponsorship opportunities, and hotel and airfare discounts. Contact the event sponsor or exposition company if you have questions.

4. Watch those deadlines! "Miss a deadline, and costs go up significantly," says Sookman. Setting up show services on-site is expensive, and you'll spend lots of valuable time standing in line. Complete and submit your paperwork early for substantial discounts.

5. Pack important paperwork in your luggage, not with the booth. This includes contracts, service orders and shipment tracking numbers. Take a backup copy of electronic presentations, and make sure you have the contact numbers for any vendors you used in connection with the show.

6. Take your tools. Create a show toolbox labeled "open first," and ship it with your booth. Include such items as office supplies, tools you need to set up the exhibit, a small first aid kit, preprinted shipping labels, snacks and water. Don't forget plenty of business cards.

7. Individually label each box. Include your company name, contact information and booth number. Without proper identification, it's highly unlikely the loading dock will be able to identify your shipment and deliver it to your booth. If it can't be identified, it can't be delivered.

8. Staff the booth; work the show. Working a trade show booth is exhausting. Set up shifts of three or four hours each and give everyone time to take breaks (preferably away from the booth). You should also schedule time for your staff to walk the floor and check out the competition, make contacts and see what's new in your industry.

9. Don't let your leads get cold! Immediately contact leads and thank them for dropping by your booth. Your prompt handling of requests for additional information will show potential clients you value their time and provide quality customer service.

10. Evaluate your success. Did you reach your goals? Was this the right audience? Note your successes and brainstorm for ideas while the show is still fresh in your mind.


Donna Curry (donna@eventqueen.com) is a planning and logistics consultant specializing in marketing events for high-tech start-ups.

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