Comfort first, fashion second
While you naturally want to make a good impression, having to take your shoes off after the first hour because your toes are turning black is not the way to do it!
Make sure you dress comfortably as you will be on your feet for several hours, often without any chance to sit down. Personally I would recommend a pair of flat shoes which you wear regularly - you may want to get some cushioned insoles, but make sure you try them out beforehand in case they cause blisters!
Perch if you can!
Standing all day is exhausting, if like me you have any kind of physical ailment it can be impossible.
We take a couple of tall folding bar stools with us, which means that you can perch while talking, giving the impression you are in fact standing. You can even get perching stools which may be a necessity if you know you can't stand for long periods.
Eat when you can
It is vital that you eat and drink regularly throughout the event, this means that you will stay alert and be able to get through the day without feeling unwell. It is very easy to get so caught up with the busyness of the exhibition and completely forget your own needs. It is also rather embarrassing to faint in front of hundreds of people!
Go to a wholesale outlet and get hold of a box of your favourite chewy bars, which you can quickly grab and snack on if you have a spare few minutes. Also grab a crate of small water bottles - these are easy to store under your stand or behind a popup, and a lifesaver if you are talking all day long.
Other useful snacks are nuts and raisins which you can store in a plastic tub, dried fruit, anything that is healthy and you can eat quickly. I wouldn't recommend relying on crisps and chocolate as although they give you a quick fix, you can also get a dramatic crash when your sugar levels drop - aim for longer, sustained energy release food.
Most venues will offer food and drink, however they are often over priced - and you may not have the chance to go and get them, so being prepared is a sensible option.
I also thoroughly recommend taking some thermal mugs with lids (branded to your company if you want to be really whizzy!) as I have never yet managed to drink a cup of tea at an exhibition - people always interrupt you! A thermal cup will allow you to keep the drinks hot until you can get back to it!
Don't do it alone
If at all possible, never run an exhibition stand by yourself. This isn't always practical with new and start up businesses, but it is well worth roping someone else in to help you.
If you do, make sure that you spend time with them (I would say a minimum of an afternoon) before the exhibition, to acquaint them with the business, how you expect them to represent you, the kind of questions people might ask and some standard answers, and of course what to do if they don't know the answer.
Having at least two people means that if you are tied up with talking to someone, there is someone else who can answer questions, restock your leaflets, maybe even get you a cup of tea!
At an exhibition there are often thousands of people milling around, queueing for coffee, visiting stands or simply chatting with friends. Take every opportunity to tell them who you are and what you do.
We do this by having t-shirts printed with our company logo and name on the front, our name in big block letters on the back, and "Ask me about Joomla! Website Design" or whatever the person's speciality might be, along with a recognisable symbol of that specialisation (in my case, the Joomla! Logo).
You would not believe the number of times I have been stopped in the coffee queue or when wandering around other stands by people who already know my name what I do before they even start talking to me!
Whatever your preferred method of note taking might be, have it to hand and make use of it. You will receive hundreds of business cards during the event, do you really expect to remember every conversation?
If I need to remember something about a conversation with someone I meet, I take a photo of the business card after they have left and drop it into an Evernote note, along with any comments. Once you get into the habit it is very quick.
Before the days of Evernote, I would stick a business card in a notebook with sellotape across the top edge, and write underneath the card flap any comments, this is sometimes more useful if you are super busy or aren't confident with technology.
Make sure that you have everything you are likely to need, and mock up your stand before the exhibition. Mark out the space, set up your promotional material, make sure everything fits in your allocated area.
Common things we have forgotten include blutack, sticky tape, brochure stands, lanyards for passes, pens, and more! I would recommend making a list, and packing things up the day before the event. Have in your mind where you would go to get anything you have forgotten, especially if you are too far away to pop home!
Invite your clients and prospective clients
An exhibition is your opportunity to showcase what you do, so why not invite your clients along, maybe offer them a special gift if they come to your stand? It is a great opporunity to open up channels of communication, and a perfect chance to cross sell other products or services.
Equally, send out an invite to your prospects, perhaps even give them a call and personally invite them to the exhibition - maybe have a special pre-event breakfast or post-event drinks?
Clear time for following up
Make sure that you block out some time to follow up every person you spoke with at the exhibition personally. Send them an email after the event, but also schedule time in your diary to actually call people, maybe even meet up for a coffee.
Even if they may not be of direct interest to you now, you might need their services at a later date, or you could come across someone who needs their help. They may even know people who need your services. Make the effort to learn about your network, and you will notice that others will do the same and start referring you clients too.
Unless you know what people do, you can't help them get more clients, and if you don't give people the chance to find out about you and your business, they can't help you either. This is important.....if you don't follow up your new acquaintances you may as well not bother going!
Schedule your social media in advance
If you think you can run an exhibition stand and be sharing on social media throughout the event, trust me you will struggle. Schedule messages to go out during the day across your social networks telling people what you are offering at the exhibition, how people can find you, what you can offer, and anything else that might be relevant. Maybe even write news stories on your website with a publish date of the exhibition day, so you don't even need to worry about writing a blog about being there.
Complement this by having 'live from' messages, maybe even have an event on Google+ and enable party mode, so that your photos are added to the event automatically. Follow any hashtags for the event and see if you can help anybody or communicate with them directly to invite them to your stand.
Events are social by their nature, try to make the most of the opportunities presented by social media.
Come and meet us!
I hope this has been useful, we will be at the Suffolk Business Exhibition on stands 11 and 12 on the 1st May (from 11am to 7pm at Trinity Park Conference Centre) - do book your spot quickly as there are less than 15 stands left and it is definitely not to be missed! Go to www.issba.co.uk for more information.
I am offering a limited number of one-to-one appointments during the exhibition where you can pick my brains about anything related to websites, search engine optimisation, Google+ or any other topic I might be able to help you with, please email if you would like to book a session but be quick as there are limited spaces which are being snapped up quickly!
You can always find out what events we will be attending by checking out the calendar on our homepage, or via the 'come and meet us' link on the main menu - we look forward to meeting you soon!