Here are some tips I’ve used myself at educational trade fairs. They could just as easily apply to business trade shows too, I would expect, but since my experience is in the educational sector, I’ll stick to what I know. A few of them were passed on to me by others who were seasoned veterans of the fair circuit, so let me publicly thank them for helping me out when I was a rookie. I’m happy to share all these tips with you:
Think “first aid kit”. First aid kits are full of little things you need in emergencies. Your “trade fair kit” should include tape, push pins, “fun tack” (sticky putty that holds posters to the wall without marking the wall) business cards, markers, pens, elastic bands, a couple of large envelopes, a note pad and a pair of scissors. Bring everything you need to make your booth beautiful. Bonus tip: Using clear packing tape, I always tape a business card to the handle of my scissors so if anyone asks to borrow them, they will remember who to return them to. It’s amazing how many things get lent – and then lost – at a trade fair!
Stay hydrated. Exhibition halls can get hot and usually don’t have a lot of fresh air. You may get dehydrated more quickly than usual. Keep a bottle of water handy and drink from it often. Coffee, tea and colas will dehydrate you (and they’ll look terrible if they spill on your clothes.) If you’re travelling in a foreign country remember to buy bottled water. Make sure the bottle is sealed when you get it. Otherwise, it may have been refilled with local tap water which may contain bacteria that is not agreeable to your system.
Dress for comfort. You’re on the go for 10, 12, maybe 14 hours (or more). You need to look professional, but you also need to be comfortable. If your shoes hurt your feet, leave them at home. If your favorite suit is a bit snug these days, forget it. The bottom line is that if you’re not thinking about what you’re wearing, you’re more likely to concentrate on your work. Bonus tip: Bring some stain remover. In Canada, for example, you can buy a box of individually wrapped stain-wipes and I expect you can get them in many other countries, too. They are great for travelling. If you spill something on yourself, you may not have time to run back to your room to change.
Be a know-it-all. People are more likely to remember you if you are helpful to them. Before the doors crash open and people flood the hall, make a point to find out where the closest bathrooms, exits, water fountain, information booth and cafeteria are. No, it’s not your job to direct traffic, but if you can be helpful to others, they will appreciate it and you’ll leave them with a positive impression.
Smile, smile, smile! Once students, agents and parents fill the hall, this is your time to shine. Make a point to smile to as many of them as possible. Sometimes, people start concentrating on answering questions or focus on how tired or jet lagged they feel. The tough reality is that students and parents have no idea how you feel and most of them won’t care. They will care, however, if you make them feel good. A smile always makes people feel good.
Be a farmer. Trade fairs are a place to plant seeds that will grow later. Collect as much contact information as you can, so you can stay in touch with people later. This is called “harvesting information”. One way to do this is to offer a draw for something that people are really keen on. Free tuition is always a hit. Then, use your entry forms to follow up with people when you get home. Plant the seeds. Nurture the relationships that germinate at trade fairs and some of them will blossom into registrations for you.
Warning – Don’t eat alone. Trade fairs mean networking. Valuable meetings can happen over meals or coffee. Use this time to build relationships with other professionals, agents or a new contact. Remember that the best way to network is to make yourself an excellent resource for others. Be ready to offer your own tips, ideas and information. Doing so will help others remember you – warmly.
(This post is a reprint of an article originally written by the blog author in the October 6, 2003 edition of the “weekly e-newsletter for subscribers of email@example.com”.)
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.