From the April 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

You're about to attend your first trade show to promote your cool widgets and to generate leads. So what can you do to make it an unforgettable sucess? Keep in mind, your first foray into a trade show is your introduction to the business community. If you're planning to find great leads--and if you hope to make your trip worthwhile--then listen up. Susan Friedmann, founder of coaching firm The Tradeshow Coach in Lake Placid, New York, and author of a library of how-to books for trade show exhibitors, shares her insights on exactly what goes into a successful trade show.

Before you go, Friedmann says, make sure you're attending the appropriate trade show for your product or service. Will the show attract your target customers? Does the show have good attendance--enough to merit your investment? Call past exhibitors to find out what kinds of people attend the shows, and ask how well those exhibitors did.

"The most common mistake is that [businesses] don't understand the significance of trade shows," according to Friedmann. Before you even complete your registration, establish your goals for the event. Ask yourself why you are exhibiting at a particular show and what you want to come away with specifically. Set quantifiable goals. Just saying "I want a lot of leads" is not enough--set a number.

Also, think carefully about what you want to exhibit. According to Friedmann, many first-timers make the mistake of bringing every item in their line to the show, instead of focusing on the few most exciting products. "Seventy-five percent of people going to shows are looking for something new," she notes.

During the show, project a professional image and demeanor. This means arranging for someone else to cover the booth if you need to get food or take bathroom breaks. It could be a friend or even a temp if the trade show is out of town. Be sure, though, to train any fill-in person to answer prospects' questions, notes Friedmann.

Remember, you're there to sell products or services, but it's essentially about making human connections. Ask questions, collect quality information, and find out as much as possible about your prospects. As you're speaking with each prospect, take notes on a small notecard and ask them how they would like you to follow up. This simple action puts the prospect in a comfort zone.

After the show, says Friedmann, "deliver on any promise you made on the show floor." Use the notecards you wrote during the show to help jog your memory and to make sure you've hit all the bases. Evaluate the show and your participation. Did you get a return on your investment? Says Friedmann, "It's attention to detail--not just buying the booth and showing up."