Trade shows are complicated, stressful events, and it’s very easy to forget something essential. To help you out, we’ve created a checklist of 12 critical steps for trade show planning, from confirming your booth’s dimensions to ordering promotional gifts.
- Choose your trade show goals.
You should attend trade shows with a specific purpose in mind, whether this is signing new clients or networking with potential investors. Choose one to three goals for your trade show visit and make them concrete and numeric if possible (i.e., make a goal of signing 10 new potential clients instead of vaguely leaving it at “find new clients”).
- Confirm your booth dimensions.
You will have selected your booth when you registered for the trade show. Before you do anything else, double check the booth’s dimensions and placement on the trade show floor. Your space and location will determine both the design of the booth and how many staff members and promotional items you can bring, so it’s essential that you know how much space you have.
- Select your booth display.
Now that you have confirmed the booth’s dimensions, you need to design and print the booth display as well as any banners, tablecloths, and other items you will need. Give yourself plenty of lead time on this in case there is a shipping delay or an issue with the printer. Do a test set-up of the booth before you leave, to confirm that you have all the booth components that you need.
- Pick your booth staff.
The number of people that you take with you will be largely determined by your budget as well as the size of the booth. You should send at least two people so that one person will always be there to watch the booth while the other person uses the bathroom or gets food. If you can afford it, it can be really beneficial to have three or more people in attendance. That way, your company can have a presence in multiple places at once during the trade show.
- Book flights and hotels.
Once you confirm your trade show team, go ahead and book their flights and hotels to lock in the best deal possible. Encourage your team to research ground transportation and food options ahead of time so they’re not trying to figure it out on the fly and wasting valuable trade show time. If you plan to hold any meetings at nearby restaurants or bars, go ahead and make reservations for them so you will be guaranteed prompt seating for larger parties.
- Schedule meetings.
Speaking of meetings, if you are trying to connect with any clients or vendors at the trade show, reach out in advance to go ahead and schedule those. Trade shows are very busy times for everyone, and people have limited availability for activities outside the trade show, especially during the day. Scheduling meetings in advance will ensure that you get the face time you need while on site.
- Decide how you will capture leads.
There are many different ways to capture leads at a trade show, but not all of them will make sense for your company or team. Brainstorm the essential information that you need to capture for lead generation, and then figure the easiest and most painless way to do that. You don’t want a potential lead to quit halfway through filling out a form because it was taking too long and they saw another booth they wanted to check out.
- Order all promotional items.
Another essential checklist task that takes some lead time is ordering promotional items for the trade show. If you’re looking for an affordable giveaway, bulk gifts under $5 are a great place to start. If you need gifts to give to existing clients you will be meeting at the trade show, consider a nice presentation in branded gift boxes to make a lasting impression.
- Put together a trade show kit.
Some general items are essential to have on hand, no matter the size of your trade show display. Put together a trade show emergency kit that contains the following items: pens, pencils, Sharpies, highlighters, sticky notes, extension cords, duct tape, rubber bands, zip ties, paper clips, staplers, and business cards. Also bring along a first aid emergency kit so you don’t have to search the entire trade show for a band aid if someone gets a papercut at your booth.
- Practice your demos and spiels.
Trade show floors are crowded, and you will only have a few precious seconds to capture a potential lead’s attention before they move on to the next booth. This means that any pitches, demos, and spiels need to be super polished and ready to go with no hesitation. Have your team practice before the trade show until they can present without hesitation.
- Promote your trade show appearance.
Let your followers know through emails and social media posts that your company will be attending the trade show. Include all pertinent information they will need to find you, such as the booth location and number. If your team members will be making any special appearances, such as participating in a panel or keynote speech, be sure to promote that too.
- Plan your followup approach.
Once you’ve captured all those leads, you shouldn’t just let them languish. Before departing for the trade show, make a plan on how you will follow up with any leads and connections you make. Email campaigns are the natural choice, but there are other options such as physical mailers as well. Create the assets ahead of time so you’re not scrambling to put something together when you return exhausted from the trade show, and your future self will thank you.
Check It Out and Check It Off
Follow this checklist to ensure that you are ready to go for your next trade show and that you don’t forget anything essential.