I have a love-hate relationship with conferences and trade shows.
On one hand, they're usually huge gatherings of extremely talented industry people -- the perfect place to network. On the other hand, they often feel stale, boring, and forced. Add having your own booth into the mix and you're guaranteed to feel even more anxious.
All entrepreneurs need those side jobs and mine is digital marketing and conferencing several times a year for a litigation cost management company. It's in a pretty intense industry (risk management and insurance -- so you can guarantee that standing out and finding comfort within those fluorescent-lit halls is not easy.
Over the years, I've learned that manning a booth includes hard work and long days, but there is a secret to those that do well and those that don't. My favorite pro tip? You don't have to spend that much (more) money to gain the traction at your booth. Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks that have worked for us and will help your company, too:
1. Use fewer words: have your mission statement down in a few words/sentences.
If you can't nail down your written pitch in three words or less, it's time to go back to the drawing board. When you have displays up, people make judgments in mere seconds. If they can't tell what you do, don't depend on them to come up and ask you.
Before deciding on any displays or boards, sit down with your marketing team (or yourself) and sketch out colors, moods, and words that explain exactly who you are.
2. Instead of business cards for a giveaway, try business cards for a good cause.
Business card collection is important, but as an attendee, I usually pass by those that offer a free gift card or the latest tech product because I know that those companies will probably just give the gift to a potential client anyway.
Instead, pair your business card drop off with a good cause. For every card you receive, pledge a donation to an industry charity or your favorite cause. It's a good opportunity for people to stop by and comment on your efforts and win an extra moment to talk about your company.
3. Explain the mission behind your product instead of your specific product.
Creating an interactive booth is key, but sometimes demoing your product right away can seem pushy. If you are a company with an initiative, for example, solar panels, think about a booth display that includes facts about solar energy, how they could save the earth, and set up a creative experience.
That way, people will naturally want to know more about how you are helping to solve the problems that you've displayed.
4. Have cool swag and distribute it in the area.
Conference organizers can be strict inside the halls, but they don't necessarily have control outside of the hall. Get creative with marketing efforts -- share goodies with Uber drivers and tip them to hand it out to passengers or partner with a nearby restaurant to display your company's coasters.
5. Host a charging station at your booth and offer activities while they wait.
The best way to network with people is to have shared experience together. While they're charging their devices, use this moment as a natural and easy way to get people to come into your booth and chat - remember, you don't have to sell them right away.
Just talk to them like a friend and the conversation will naturally move where you need it to.
6. Create a crowd by making it interactive.
We've done really well by hosting mini golf at our booth, but I've also seen virtual reality, arcade basketball, and pull up competitions do really well, too. Knowing your audience and catering towards their hobbies will be an easy draw.
7. Host your own mini-conference within the conference.
Does your team have a thing or two to share? Create innovative sessions and invite conference goers to join you for quick thought-provoking moments led by your team or industry friends who want to share their wisdom.
8. Focus on lighting.
That good 'ol conference hall can get so dreary, but it's incredible what lighting can do. Invest in a few small floor lights or lamps (for a comfortable home vibe), and watch your space transform. In an exhibiting floor where things all look the same, the goal is to have attendees do a double take when they pass by you.
9. Host a giveaway that naturally makes attendees hang around your booth longer.
Whether that's hosting a coffee/tea corner, doing on-site screen printing, or participating in a game, you want to create a situation where they will spend more time with you. That equates to more minutes you have to sneak in a pitch and possibly make a great connection.
10. Be lighthearted: conferences are already so professional.
Don't be afraid to be human at conferences! Not every introduction has to be a pitch -- sometimes people just want to chat about anything but work. On the other hand, make sure you already have some natural segways that can move towards business talk just in case, but remember, be cool.