Planning and executing a tradeshow is an ambitious campaign with a tremendous payoff–and not just for you.
A well-run tradeshow will help exhibitors expand their business’ growth, help attendees network and learn and help you establish your reputation as an event to look forward to.
There’s a lot of advice out there for how to run a great tradeshow, but much of it covers the broad strokes. It’s general advice that you can easily pick up the first time you run an event.
I wanted to dig a little deeper than that, so I consulted with several experienced tradeshow organizers (who requested anonymity) for tradeshow management tips that they’ve picked up over years of hard experience.
1. Swag carefully
Not everything is a sponsorship opportunity.
One memorable anecdote involved a show that allowed a sponsor to buy the event’s toilet paper. The branded toilet paper was too thick and wouldn’t flush.
I’ll let your imagination handle the rest.
2. Climate control
Room temperature has a big yet hidden impact on the show’s mood. Too hot, and people will be surly. Too cold, and they’ll be too frigid to enjoy themselves. Keep temperature cool but not too cold, and you can maybe even offer sponsors the option to pay for light blankets for the attendees.
3. Vet exhibitors wisely
Yeah, you need to fill up booth space. But don’t let your sales team pick every Tom, Dick and Harry that wants a booth. Keep consistent with your theme and keep track of how many of each type of business you’ve already signed on.
4. Drinks are on us
Hydrate people! Attendees love it when the show offers common sodas and beverages during meals or in break rooms. If you’re not catering the show, at least provide water stations so that people aren’t forced to buy from the coffee shop when they’re thirsty.
5. Provide plenty of setup/break down time
Many shows only give exhibitors four hours to set up their booths. This creates a madhouse as people run in and out, forgetting stuff from the car and getting in each other’s way. It stresses out exhibitors and ruins their memory of the event.
Compare this to a two-day allowance, and you’ll have exhibitors who are much more relaxed come tradeshow day. Have them save their energy for when they actually need it–on the tradeshow floor talking to attendees.
6. Give quick access to security
You’re going to need to call security at some point. Whether it’s an exhibitor who got too much into their cups, a would-be thief, or some jerk who tried to harass someone, security needs to come deal with the situation right away.
Have security do regular patrols. Provide a call-in number to all exhibitors and attendees. Give every staff member walkie-talkies. Get an event app that has a panic button feature. Anything that helps people get help faster.
A safe event is a great event.
7. Train staff to identify badges
Certain areas of your tradeshow will be restricted-access, whether it’s an attendee-only networking event or an exhibitor-only break room. And I can guarantee you 100% that someone is going to try to sneak in where they shouldn’t.
Some events require badges to be scanned, although this isn’t always reliable as some wily people wait for the usher to be distracted before slipping past.
Train staff to visually identify the different badges used, even from a distance, so that they can pick out people who are lurking where they shouldn’t and watch for any funny business.
8. Make sure staff are always informed
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
I once staffed an event that gave front-row seats to children from a local orphanage. Except the kids never showed up, because security had not been informed and was refusing them entry.
There’s no such thing as “need to know” in a tradeshow. Every staff member should know what is going on and when. Attendees will ask them weird and random questions about the event program. Arm them with information ahead of time.
9. Don’t delegate signage to a vendor
Your marketing agency might be willing to handle the design and printing of your show signage, but don’t let them work unsupervised. A common horror story involves printers who misprinted event agendas and room numbers, and designers who used the wrong logo for a sponsor and thus incurred their wrath.
Check and double-check all room numbers, speaker names and logos before sending it off for final printing. And even then you’d better inspect every finished standee, banner and tabletop sign before putting it on the floor.
10. Rebooking at the show
The best time to get people to rebook is at the show itself! Set up a nice sales office and offer candy and treats to visitors who drop in. Remind people in the announcements that exhibitors can rebook at the show and get a nice discount when they do.
A good or bad event isn’t defined by one factor. It’s defined by multiple tiny memories and events. A good sales conversation here, a bad encounter there. Focus on giving your exhibitors and attendees as many good memories as possible, and you’ll have an event that will sell out every single year.