For association professionals, there are thousands of conferences and trade shows to choose from. But, if you aren’t sure why you are going—or how to get the most out of the experience—you are likely to be disappointed. Planning in advance is key.
For the Attendee
Going to an event without a plan is like attending a party where you only know the hosts. Most likely you’ll end up standing in the corner with a glass of wine “hoping” someone will come up and speak with you.
1. Meet everyone you can
Build your plan first and invest time connecting with as many attendees, exhibitors, and even speakers, as possible. If you’re not a natural networker, simply ask the first person you encounter where they are from and what they do. Tell them about interesting projects you are working on and ask them what they’re working on. Chances are there will be plenty in common, as you both had something of mutual interest to convince you to register for the show.
2.Get exposure to other companies, including your competitors
Events offer a unique opportunity to see how companies, including your competitors present their branding, products, services and solutions.
3. Set a goal
It’s easy to waste money on trade shows and events if you don’t know what you want to achieve by attending. Set a goal, such as making five new connections for business development opportunities or 10 new member leads.
4. Execute what you have learned
The hardest part of actually attending any event or trade show is following up when you return. And don’t forget to share what you’ve learned with your colleagues.
For the Exhibitor
Here are some suggestions for getting more out of your participation and justifying your presence to the home office:
1. Measure trade show/event ROI
Let’s say your goal is to meet with 50 prospective new customers over a four-day show. Figure out how many introductions you need to make each day and how you will be attracting these prospects to your booth. Having the goals and measurements clearly defined beforehand helps guide your activities at the show—and immediately thereafter.
2. Generate leads and build relationships
Your focus should be on meeting new people who fit your target customer/member goals and getting your organization’s information into their hands.
3. Meet other businesses as potential alliances
Pre-screening the list of other attending companies can be a great way to plan for “chance” meetings that turn into longstanding mutually beneficial relationships. Before packing your bags, research who you’d like to meet and what those companies do. That way you’ll be prepared to have meaningful conversations with them upon arriving.
4. Don’t oversell, but rather have fun
Most attendees come to a show to have a good time, build relationships and find out about new products and services in the marketplace. They don’t want to sit through a 20-minute sales presentation.
For the Trade show or Event Host
1. Plan for media coverage
Invite the media and help them with articles they’re working on. The easier you make their jobs, the more likely your event will get the positive publicity it deserves.
2. Bring your team together to execute the event
Your membership team should use this platform to promote your association’s key benefits. Your marketing team should be there to network with members and find out what’s making them happy or unhappy about your association. The business development folks should be there to identify partnership opportunities. On a more basic level, make sure you have several people assigned at all times to answer frequently asked questions like, “Where are the closest restrooms in the hotel or convention center?”
3. Prepare to be social at the event
Come up with a #hashtag for your event that is easy to remember, related to the event and that everyone can use. It’s a great way to see all of the feedback from the event in one place, and also helps attendees stay connected to each other before, during and after the event. Put the #hashtag on all event materials to ensure that everyone not only knows about it, but is using the same #hashtag. Just as important, however, is to make sure that someone from your team is monitoring the Twitter activity.
Planning an event is a huge undertaking. It takes a lot of organization, attention to detail, a fantastic team, and great leadership and management skills. As a show planner, you can’t always attend educational sessions, listen to keynote speeches or network with attendees and exhibitors, but your career will get a big boost when you pull off a successful event. Be sure to have a photographer and interviewer on-site to capture images of happy exhibitors and attendees, and to get testimonials.
And, remember to update your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles to show that you pulled off a great event. You deserve it!
Camille Stern is the vice president and group show director of Naylor Event Solutions.