5 tips to make the most of your next tradeshow

Last week, I attended my first trade show as a Hylander. It was also my first time assuming the role of show exhibitor.

As a former agency professional, I’m privy to the flip side—perusing vendor stands and chatting with software sellers. Thus, I was (admittedly) anxious yet determined to take on my new role. As I walked onto the floor for the opening receptions, my mind raced with questions.

How can a vendor make a lasting impression? Will I be able to answer every question? Did our pre-show marketing drive the awareness we needed?

Three days, countless conversations and two flights later, the Hyland travel team is back in the Westlake headquarters armed with hundreds of leads and—more importantly—stronger relationships. Reflecting on our experience at AACRAO in Minneapolis, below are my top tips to make the most of any trade show experience regardless of industry or role. Good luck!

1. Pack your flats

While we all pack for professionalism and style, keep comfort and practicality in mind. After all, you’re likely going to be on your feet for eight-plus hours. Don’t be afraid to rock your most comfortable footwear.

Other must-haves in your suitcase: an extra phone or laptop charger, business cards, snacks, notebooks and (for vendors) brand swag and a thoughtful giveaway. Check out HubSpot’s pre-conference packing checklist for a comprehensive list.

2. Have a bold sense of humor

Trade shows are rich with learning experiences and lucrative business connections (hence all the serious faces). That said, it’s often also a chance to travel and make memories with colleagues. This is just one of many reasons we decided to giveaway inflatable T-rex costumes at AACRAO.

Nope, I’m not kidding. Here’s one of our costume winners from Villanova.

Lesson learned: Goofy giveaways are effective. Attendees dropped by our booth to take photos with our T-rex and take a break. What started with raised eyebrows and laughter ended with meaningful conversations and new connections.

3. Listen, listen, and then, listen some more

I was lucky enough to staff the AACRAO OnBase booth along with four seasoned higher education solutions experts. Customers and prospects had questions ranging from high-level (Give me your elevator pitch) to highly technical (How can I optimize transcript processing?). Listening to how they gracefully addressed these queries was invaluable.

It sounds trite, but when in conference mode, always be a sponge. From the vendor perspective, take note of key phrases and visionary statements related to your software. Write down common questions and come up with your own insightful responses for future use.

As an attendee, take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions. It’s not every day that you’re surrounded by top experts in your industry.

4. Offer (or ask for) resources for ongoing education

Trade shows breed inspiration. Keep the passion going and seek out resources to take home with you. If a particular session piqued your interest, stick around after the session to ask the speaker for recommended reading or other related events to attend.

And when it comes to exhibitors, always be equipped with collateral, user forums, training links and post-show webinars. Anticipate the questions and needs, then be prepared to share resources.

5. Be human

Yes, these shows mean serious business. Nevertheless, it’s also a chance to get to know your colleagues and peers beyond the daily cube banter.

Before the trade show, identify those you’d like to dedicate time to (customers, prospects, those you admire) and see if they can make time for you. If you’re in an unfamiliar city, apps like AroundMe and Zomato can help you to identify the trendiest spots for lunch, dinner or happy hour.

So, there you go. My top five tips to success at trade shows. Best of luck with your next show!

Is there anything you’d add to my list? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Sandie Young

Sandie Young

Sandie Young (@sandiemyoung) recently joined the higher education marketing team at Hyland. She is responsible for creating, managing and tracking demand generation campaigns as well as event promotion. Sandie has a Journalism degree from Ohio University and has a background in content and social media marketing.

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