Stealing the show at conferences

The benefit of attending conferences with a booth is usually heavily debated within companies. Arguments are predominantly based on gut feelings instead of data and who can really blame someone for it; it is almost impossible to keep track of ROI for exhibits. You never really know how well people remember your brand and even though you might not get any leads at the conference itself maybe, they want to do business with you a year later.

However, if you decide to exhibit there is one thing I definitely recommend: steal the show.

As a small or medium-sized company, you are looking at an investment of somewhere in between five and twenty thousand euros including travel, expenses and hotels and such so you want to get the most out of it, I hope!

1. Picking the sweet spot

Being in the right spot can make all the difference between a successful visit that makes you want to do it again the year after and the feeling you get when you get seated at a dinner table that’s just a little too big to allow for a comfortable conversation. It is all about getting close to people.

Sometimes the right spot means you have to book very early because some organization work based on first-come-first-serve principle and sometimes it means paying a little extra to get a ‘premium booth’. Just to be certain you should probable do both.

YES: Booths with high traffic rates are usually in the center, near catering, the corner booths and at the entrance of session rooms.

NO: You don’t want to be in far-away areas, dead-end hallways (or next to the toilets), poster session areas, or secondary levels if it’s a big building.

2. Pre-show outreach

Try to make some appointments beforehand with people and suggest for them to meet you at your booth by using partnering programs or sending personalized messages on LinkedIn or emails. Keep in mind that most of the people are there partly to do some networking of their own and will probably be more susceptible to having a chat then usual when you send them a ‘cold email’. Although I do not believe in it myself, some post on LinkedIn to let their networks know they will be present at conference.

In case you are bringing along a prize (which you should and we’ll get back to that later), it’s good to mention this in your messaging. In my experience, this kind of thing eases the decision process of agreeing to meet you there.

3. Get on social during the event

Progressive conferences tend to make use of networking apps and you can use these to your advantage by participating in the news streams, chatting to other delegates or by posting offers on it. Although not everyone makes use of the apps, it’s usually a minimal effort to get your profile on there and join the conversation.

For instance, upload a picture of your booth together with your value proposition. Ask some enticing questions regarding hot topics to let it be known that you are an expert in that field. Alternatively, post a prize question or poll on there; be creative. Because these apps are not flooded with messages yet, a few posts should do the trick to get your name out there.

4. Creative decor

This part is all about branding. If you plan to attend multiple conferences, try to get a custom-made booth to set you apart from the competition. It does not have to be a Monet-caliber booth design but putting a little extra thought into it will make all the difference. It will make sure you do not get lost in the big line of booths that is bound to be there.

In addition, try to make sure that you use the space you get effectively, so instead of taking along three banners you have lying around set up an exhibition wall with bold lettering and eye-catching visuals and expressive colouring to display your key messages. It should be something worth remembering for the people who visit your booth. As for the actual design and content for an exhibition wall, we’ll get back to it in another blog.

It does not end with just the booth though. Think of trying to implement a screen somewhere with an animation or inspiring sheets; people are generally attracted to moving objects. Alternatively, if you sell equipment make sure that you have it on display functioning.

5. Fun giveaways

No booth without gimmicks, giveaways, or branded items (whatever you want to call them), you owe it to everyone there to bring along gifts.

At the very least, you should have a pen or USB stick to offer to all passers-by. But if you really want people to be reminded of your name make it special, make it personal, make it fancy, make it fun.

Great gifts I have seen so far:

  • Scottish company giving away little bottles of whisky and a little figurine of the Loch Ness monster (Nessie)

  • Fluffy models of microbes

  • 3D-printed chocolate models

  • Any kind of famous national sweet (if it’s actually good)

  • Umbrellas when it’s raining

  • Pencils with a seed at the end which you can plants

  • A little fan that you attach to your phone

  • A tote bag that’s totally sassy

6. Attractions

The bigger brother of the giveaway: the attraction. Go wild on this one and spend some money!

Instead of handing over something materialistic, you should try to create an experience for your visitors.

Barista: Surely my personal favorite! For the bigger conferences, I rent an authentic looking Piaggio with a professional coffee bar built into the back, put on a leather apron, bring my branded cups and make people lattés with hearts. Before you know it people will be lining up for your coffees because we all know that conference coffee is well.. just that.

Photo booth: turn part of your exhibition space into a photo booth where people can take some fun pictures. Maybe add some accessories suited to your services or the specific conference you are attending. All you need is a camera, a green screen and some photoshopping skills if you don’t want to spend to much money. But if you really want to do it properly, hire a professional.

Raffle or prize question: people love winning. People love winning cool things even more. I’ve raffled several items now and popular items just so happen to be the hip and/or more expensive things; like a bike or a trip to one of your offices (cleverly disguised as a city trip).

Host an informative presentation or demonstration: If you are truly a thought-leader, you can try this. Sharing knowledge could very well be the best way to be remembered by your peers. Content is king and by showing people that you know what it is all about you can become your go-to person. Note that this does require some extra attention and coordination to make sure people show up.

7. The greatest showman

To steal the show, you’ll need the right people. Companies are often inclined to bring their experts to conferences because that is supposedly all visitors want: have in-depth discussion on research and difficult topics.

Actually, many people also enjoy a good casual conversation, having a laugh, and being heard. You want your staff to consist of a combination of experts at science and experts at talking to people. The showman starts the conversation and the expert closes it.