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10 Ways to Leverage Exhibitions for Maximum Growth

These often relaxed and ideally engaging settings can be invaluable business tools for making first contact and establishing interest, as long as your goals and strategies are set beforehand.

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Exhibitions are the perfect platform for showcasing and strengthening a business. The trouble is that many people miss out on their benefits because they don't understand how to appropriately plan time and resources. Here time-tested ways of ensuring that you get the most from these valuable opportunities.

1. Plan activities for the year

Most companies make the mistake of "winging it" for the year. They plan for a select few events and then slap together a last-minute program for any new ones that crop up. A better strategy is to list any major events you must attend, then take time to research potential new ones that could be beneficial to participate in. These new events are often underestimated, but can be great opportunities because the atmosphere is often more intimate and people are typically in less of a hurry, so you get more time to discuss details and have meaningful, nuanced conversations. So, create a few contingency exhibition plans ahead of time so that if a new one pops up, your team is prepared to make an impressive showing. Also, treat each event as a first impression so you can maximize your impact.

Related: 5 Reasons Why 'Offlining' Is Pivotal to Success

2. Set specific goals

I frequently run into people who have little clear understanding of why they're attending an exhibition. They often outline vague justifications such as "meeting potential partners" or "signing new contracts." In my experience, not only are those concepts too nebulous, but are misguided to boot. Your goal should be specific: You're there to sell, but you're not there to sell right now.

Exhibitions should be treated as warmups. They are relaxed and hopefully engaging settings for making first contact and establishing interest, but the goal isn't to seal the deal right then. Instead, decide what specific product or service you're selling and use the exhibition to both lay a strong foundation for that sale and become better acquainted with the associated industry.

3. Plan time strategically

You have limited time to accomplish your goals, so strategic planning is critical to success. I sit down in advance and visit the event website to see a full list of its participants and conferences to make my own list of companies I must meet with and those I would like to meet with. Next, I look at the event schedule to decide which days would be most convenient to meet, and use the exhibition layout (also usually on the website) to break this down even further by grouping meetings by location (particularly if the expo is large), which saves valuable time traveling back and forth. Finally, I make sure to leave space in my schedule for food breaks and spontaneous gatherings.

Once I have my detailed breakdown, I send emails to each company a minimum of two weeks in advance to set up specific meeting times. This prevents wasted time and effort. I also make a point of reaching out to partners to find post-expo corporate events, which can be additional opportunities to solidify connections.

4. Network proactively

Just as it's important to block out time for visiting competitors, it's equally wise to block out time for creating and deepening strategic connections with other vendors. This is especially true for new founders or young specialists. Treat these blocks of time like business speed dating: You want to put your best foot forward, find attractive connections who could become future allies or partners, give them your contact information and move on.

Related: 4 Ways to Avoid Exhibition Marketing Disasters

5. Give live tutorials

Nothing is more convincing to a target audience than a real-time demonstration of what your brand can do. So, if you offer a service, think of creative ways to give attendees a trial experience. If you're showcasing products, create a dynamic setup that allows as much audience participation as possible. In some cases, it's better not to waste resources on an expo booth and simply "meet on your feet." Make this decision ahead of time.

6. Offer unique learning opportunities

Make yourself readily available for Q&A sessions. You can source questions ahead of time or offer an open-mic-style discussion. People like to learn new things, so position yourself to teach them something valuable and interesting about your industry instead of giving an advertisement performance.

7. Master your audience

Whether you're at the expo or an industry evening event, get good at jumping right in and engaging. Shake hands, make small talk and offer business cards, but also find ways of connecting beyond business. Leverage this live, intimate setting to gain insights and make memorable impressions.

8. Take a post-event break

Even the most extroverted person needs time to recharge. These gatherings can be mentally and physically exhausting, so build in a day or two post-event to either relax in the city you've traveled to or unwind at home with no work. This gives your mind time to work through everything you experienced and helps you come back to work refreshed and ready to go full speed.

Related: How to Pick the Right Networking Events to Attend

9. Do the follow-up work

You may have collected upwards of 100 business cards during an event, but it's vital to follow up on each one. Send a follow-up email reiterating who you are and the conversation you had so that the other person sees that you're not just taking an impersonal shotgun approach to connecting. (It can be handy to write highlights of chats in a notebook or in a notes app to refer back to later.) Even if you don't think the connection is relevant now, make an effort to have a brief meeting, as you may find it useful in the future.

10. Position yourself for maximum exposure

Exhibitions and their after-events are great ways of keeping your company in people's minds. There is inevitably excitement and buzz around them, which means that a strong showing will generate more hype than average. Showcase your brand in a fun, upbeat way, and strategize ahead of time about how to maximize your time in the spotlight. This enhances your brand recall value and boosts your credibility within the industry.

Related: The Art of the Follow-Up

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