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How to get the most out of a conference as an exhibitor

I have been to a lot of conferences, expos, and exhibitions, both as a delegate and as an exhibitor. For me, exhibitions are the least effort but most reward in keeping up with existing customers and meeting new customers.

However, there is an art to getting the most out of your time as an exhibitor. I recently interviewed several top exhibitors. Below are their top three tips. At the end you will find my three bonus tips.

Pre-book your most important meetings. You are at the exhibition to make sales. You have the rare opportunity to meet with some of your best customers and hottest prospects. Don’t leave anything to chance. Try to schedule meetings before you get to the event. This will show your customers that you respect their time enough to ask for an appointment.

A slight tilt on this strategy would be to invite prospects to the event. Some events will actually give exhibitors free tickets for their customers for free. If this is the case call up all your prospects within a 50 mile radius and invite them to the event.

Keep your energy levels up.

Each person you meet an at exhibition takes a little bit of energy from you. Multiply this by 20-50 and it is easy to see why exhibitions are so draining.

So you need to preserve that energy. You have to give your all to all the people you meet…but not in one go! Be enthusiastic, but remember there’s 6 hours to go..and possibly multiple days! So pace yourself and don’t go crazy on the coffee.

If possible, find a chair whenever you can to sit down and rest. If you get a chance during the break outs, go out to your car or find a sofa and try to grab a siesta. (Big thanks to Salvador for teaching me this important life skill).

Talking of liquid refreshment. After a hard first day at an exhibition it is so easy to sit and relax with a few more exhibitors or attendees and have a few drinks.  It might just be me,  but I have learned leads to lethargy the next day! I have made the same mistake again and again- staying out too late on day 1 of the exhibition! You have to be on top form so keep the after hours networking (read- drinking) to a minimum (if you can)…at least on the first night!

Don’t let anyone walk past your booth. Every conference I go to I see salespeople on their phones or laptops when prospects are walking past. This makes my heart sink. Your have solutions, but you don’t know who needs them. Speak to everyone who walks past your booth. Ask them their name and what they do. Most people love to talk about themselves and what they do!  Ask them if the last session was good- just break the ice and find out if you can help them.

If they are a good prospect tell them about how you can help. If they are not in your niche, there is no need to end the convo you can still provide some value.

Smile and tell them it was nice to meet them and then suggest another stand or a contact or a resource where they can get closer to their objectives. Even if your product is not right for them, they will remember you and may recommend you to a colleague.

My Bonus Tip 1. Get booked as a speaker, (but don’t sell). The golden ticket for an exhibitor is an invitation to speak to a roomful of ideal clients.

Sadly, many people blow this chance by “selling” to the audience. Nobody wants a sales pitch. The audience certainly did not come to a presentation to hear your sales pitch. Use your expertise in the sector or niche to educate them and entertain them. You are a person of authority and attendees want to know about your experiences. You will gain their trust. People buy from those they trust. If a few of your points happen to align with your product’s top benefits that is fine, but don’t make it a sales pitch.

Bronze tip:  Try to leave your contact details slide up on the screen for as long as possible.

Silver Hint: If you can book your speaking slot as early as possible in the day. This gives attendees the opportunity to come up and chat to you for the rest of the day…and you avoid the cliché of “grave yard shift” presentation!

Gold Hint: Have a call to action at the end of your talk, so that attendees know exactly what you want them to do next. Make the call to action as easy as possible.

Platinum Hint: If you know who will be attending the exhibition, One activity I have found is super useful is to get the names of all attendees from the organiser. The list is often available in the event guide or at least they can provide a spreadsheet. 5 mins before the end of your talk, pass around the list (on a clipboard with pen) and ask delegates to tick their name if they want you to call them.  This is an easy call to action, huge respect of everyone’s time and you have the green light to call!

My Bonus Tip 2. Talk to everyone at every opportunity. You never know who you are going to meet. I was at the refreshment stand about 30 mins before an exhibition opened. I struck up a conversation with another exhibitor. He was selling some software. He also worked as a surgeon. We had a nice conversation and went our separate ways. Later, the surgeon comes up to me and introduces me to a top executive at his hospital. The executive was exactly the kind of person I was hoping to meet. But, the two of us would ever have crossed paths if not for my earlier conversation. I have a meeting booked in with that hospital this month!

My Bonus tip 3. Break the ice for people. Many of the attendees at an event know they need to talk to others, but are nervous or shy. Help people out by breaking the ice for them. They will be grateful.  Do introductions. Connect people. Tell delegates where they might see other stands of interest.  Introduce delegates to each other and relevant sales people. Even if your product is not right for them, they will remember you and may recommend you to a colleague.

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