Conference Strategy: Making the Most of Your Time in the Booth
Unlike other marketing efforts, where the launch of the campaign is the culmination of your work, marketing your organization at a conference requires preparation as well as significant effort throughout the event. It’s not enough to have well-designed banners and great swag. To really make the most of your time in the booth, you have to engage people, and that’s easier said than done.
The next time your company gears up to present itself at a conference, consider the following tips to increase your results and maximize your return on investment:
- Staff up appropriately. Always have three times the number of people you actually need at your booth and make sure they are the right people for the job. If you’re at the conference to find new customers/clients, the employees in the booth will need to be able to demo (or speak authoritatively about) your products/services. If you’re looking to find a new employee, make sure someone from HR is on hand. Booth staff should be wearing company colors and the company logo as appropriate.
- Boot the chairs. Days can be long on the exhibit floor, and the paper-thin carpet does not help, but putting your team in chairs tells the world you are not engaged and makes your booth less inviting. If you need to, use padded floor mats to make standing tolerable. Upright team members will make a better impression. (One caveat, if the booth is large enough to allow it, stools and an elevated table are a great alternative. They provide a place to chat business while keeping you eye level with people walking by.)
- Partner Up. Your company likely has non-competing partner companies on the exhibit floor. Plan ahead to put your booth in close proximity to your their booths. This gives you and your partners a chance to talk each other up up and make introductions. In this case the sum will become greater than the parts and your aisle of cooperation will yield greater dividends.
- Make conversation. This might seem obvious, but all too often people tend to fall into their smartphones, and wait for someone to approach the booth before looking up. The truth is, people are far less likely to make the first move, especially if you appear engrossed. Schedule time away from your booth to update social media, make calls and check emails. While you’re “on duty” be sure to keep your focus on the people walking by in the real world.
- Raffle off something great. Budget to purchase whatever the hot new gadget is, and have two fish bowls handy for collecting cards. This can be a great way to start a conversation. After the conference, follow up with everyone who entered but didn’t win and invite them to your next event/webinar/conference. Be sure to get a picture of the winner for your social media pages.
- Embrace social media. This may sound like a contradiction, as we just told you not to hide in you smartphone, but embracing the technology in your pocket can help you to make friends and follow up with them after the conference. Take pictures with people who stop by, and then (later) post them to Facebook with a tag. Your new contact will get an email with a link to your Facebook page. It is no longer acceptable to say you don’t “do” social media. Even if you don’t have a personal page, potential clients/customers will expect your company or organization to have a Facebook presence (at the very least).
- Be welcoming. Smile. Make small talk. If someone looks tired, ask if they’d like a bottle of water. If someone’s cell phone has run out of power, offer to let them plug in at your booth for a bit. Avoid candy as a giveaway (unless sweets happen to be your business). It is far better is to offer some sort of useful item, like a flash drive or smartphone accessory with your logo on it.
- Listen. You may need to make the first move in terms of small talk, but once you’ve struck up a conversation, ask open-ended questions (how’s your day going so far?) and then let them do the talking. It may not feel like you’re selling someone on your services by asking them about their day, but people do business with professionals they like, and being a good listener makes you very likable. When you do talk business, ask how you can help them, instead of just pitching a regular routine.
Being well prepared, and setting your smartphone/tablet aside are the most important steps you can take. The odds are, that if you find yourself standing in a good-looking booth with nothing to do but make friends, you’ll feel inclined to reach out and say hello. From there the rest will flow.