A Guide to Exhibiting at a Genealogy Conference – Part 2: Running the Show
In the last blog post in this series, I discussed the many decisions necessary in developing your plan to have a booth at a trade show. Not only do you need to decide if you can afford to exhibit, but you need to decide what your goal at the trade show will be! Once you have decided to make that leap, you then have the actual event to run.
Promoting the Conference
Before you even get to the event, it is important that you promote the conference! After all, if there is not a strong showing at the event, you may not get the exposure you are hoping for your company or organization. Let your current customers, blog readers, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers know that you are going to be having a booth and that you would love to see them “in person.” Many exhibitors plan to have a sale through their website that coincides with the events at the conference. Sales offered for a limited time can be advertised at the conference and allow conference attendees to buy after the event is over. Offering discounts on subscriptions, books, memberships, and giveaways can entice people to visit your booth in the exhibit hall.
Plan Your Booth Layout
Make a plan for your booth layout next. Determine where you will place your table (or tables) and what you will put on your table. You do not want the booth to be too crammed with stuff so that visitors will feel self-conscious about looking at your offerings and interacting with you. A cluttered table can make it hard for a visitor to understand what you are selling. Take advantage of the vertical space as much as possible. Use clear signing to accentuate what you are selling.
Just because you see other groups with their table across the front of the booth does not mean you must do the same. In fact having that table across the front of the booth basically tells visitors that you don’t want them to come in. Having a more open set-up with the table off to the side or at the back of the booth space will draw people in. After all, you want to have the opportunity to talk with visitors and get to know them.
Make a sketch of the layout before you get to the exhibit hall to see what additional items you might need to purchase to supplement your layout. Brochure or book stands may make it more manageable and uncluttered. Figure out if there is a simple way to transport these items or if you could buy them the day before you set up where the conference is located. Sometimes it is more economical to purchase the shelving or stands at a local store near the conference and then ship it back home after the fact.
Staffing Your Booth
The next important task is selecting who will help with the booth. Sometimes we only have a few people who will be attending the conference who can assist with the booth. Or you may have a limited budget and cannot hire someone to work the booth. Your booth workers need to have a positive attitude, know your product, and project the image that you want for your business.
Whatever the situation, I recommend that you develop a checklist or guidelines for those who will help at the booth. The act of writing out the rules of helping at the booth will help you focus on your goals. Detail the methods of interacting with visitors and handling transactions. I would also suggest that you provide name tags or badges that make it clear who is helping at the booth. Having a professional appearance is important as each person will be representing your business or organization while in your booth. Be sure to have your booth workers dress nicely, but comfortably. Shoes make a big difference as you will probably be on your feet for most of the time.
Conference Check-In and Booth Setup
When you arrive at the venue it is important to check in with the organizers. Sometimes they have to rearrange the booth layout at the last minute and believe me, you do not want to have to move all your stuff more than once! If you can, pick up your temporary sales tax license while you are there.
Confirm with the organizers that all of the extras that you purchased are delivered to your booth. If you ordered carpet, electricity, or extra tables you will want those in the booth before you start setting up. You don’t want to move things around more than necessary. If you have a dolly it will make “move-in” much easier. Sometimes the venue will have wheeled carts that you can use, but occasionally they will charge you for their use. So be prepared if you have a lot of heavy items to move to your booth. I have even taken advantage of my suitcase on wheels in the past!
Use your booth layout design as a starting point for your setup. You may find that you need to rearrange or flip the layout depending on how your neighboring booths are setup. If there is going to be heavy traffic along where you had planned to put your table; you may want to put the table on the opposite side to make it less likely that someone could reach over without interacting with you first. Once your booth is set up, you will want to cover everything with a sheet to prevent items from walking away while you are not there. I do not recommend leaving anything valuable at your booth when you are not there. You may think hiding things under your table is enough, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Laptops, tablets, and money are far too easy to lose.
Booth Orientation for Staff
A brief orientation with your booth workers before the exhibit hall opens can be helpful. Step through the guidelines you had developed and how to approach visitors. Have a short compelling message that you’d like them to use and have each person rehearse it. Whether it is just a question to draw people in or a quick description of your business or organization doesn’t matter. You want to be consistent with the message you use. Be sure to discuss the importance of reading body language with your booth workers. While it’s good to encourage others to come and talk with you at your booth, you don’t want to alienate people by accosting them in the aisle. It can be considered rude or antagonistic and you don’t want to upset your fellow exhibitors by making people rush through the aisle to avoid you. Instead, teach your booth workers how to read the body language of those walking by. If someone turns toward your booth that means they are open to speaking with you. If they avoid making eye contact when you say, “Hello” it may just mean they are in a rush to get somewhere. Try not to take it personally.
Take a Break!
Hopefully you will have a number of workers at your booth to allow for frequent breaks. If not, have a “Be right back” sign with an estimated time of return. Try not to take one of these breaks during the gap between conference sessions, lunch time, or at the beginning or closing hours of the exhibit hall. Those are going to be your highest traffic times in the hall and you want someone at the booth then.
Drawings and Giveaways
Offering a drawing for a giveaway may be a simple way to entice visitors. Many people love the chance to win a prize. Do what makes the most sense for your group. If you are going to offer a contest you probably want to have an entry require sharing their email address and agreeing to be on a mailing list. Be clear about this and people will appreciate your honesty. If you bought promotional items like a pen, highlighter, or name tag ribbon to hand out you might want to make sure the recipient has at least taken a moment to hear your spiel. Remind them that you are providing the item in the hopes that they will visit your website when they get home after the conference. People appreciate that you are trying to get your name out and that these items are not given away without a reason.
Network with Other Exhibitors
While you are primarily exhibiting at the conference in order to get to know the attendees, you should make a point to get to know your fellow exhibitors. Before going to the conference you might want to check the exhibitor list and reach out to a few that you’d like to get to know. Invite them to stop by your booth or schedule a meeting for coffee or drinks. Ask about their business and consider how you might be able to help them with your own expertise, business, or personal connections. Partnerships with other organizations can be invaluable. Introduce yourself to your neighboring booths and offer to keep an eye on their booth if they need a break. They will likely return the favor.
Don’t Forget the “After Conference” Follow-up!
Many people want to visit your website after they meet you. Make sure it’s up to date and running properly. After the conference you want to be sure and quickly follow up with those you met. Thank those who took the time to meet with you from other organizations. Thank your booth workers and other supporters who might have helped you along the way. You will also want to sit down and analyze how it went for your organization and make plans for your next trade show experience. If you can, provide feedback to the organizers of the event so that they can understand how your business or organization did during the conference. The great thing about exhibiting at trade shows is that you can try new things and perfect your approach each time. Learning to adapt your approach helps you to become better at promoting your organization and build relationships with others. It is a win-win!
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About Jennifer Alford
Jennifer Alford, PE, PTOE, is a Traffic Engineer by day and a genealogy professional and lecturer by night. Her business, Jenealogy, creates engaging family history treasures to enhance the bond between generations. Jen serves as newsletter editor for the Indiana Genealogical Society and has served in the position of associate editor of the Federation of Genealogical Society’s FORUM magazine. As a partner with The In-Depth Genealogist she is publisher of The In-Depth Genealogist’s magazine, Going In-Depth, and several books written by their contributing writers. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at http://www.jenealogy.biz or http://www.theindepthgenealogist.com