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How to own the floor at your next trade show (even if it’s virtual)

For the last several months, we’ve all dealt with conferences and meetings that have transitioned to virtual events. While virtual is the current norm for certain types of gatherings, the biggest industry trade shows have struggled to find appropriate virtual footprints. Those of us who find those shows so energising know they will return in some live and in-person form – whether in six months or a year. With that in mind, it’s never too soon to brush up on the strategies that will help you polish your presence at trade shows and live events, and that can bring more focus to the virtual conferences you attend or sponsor. Here’s a step-by-step approach.

Step one: Start with the ‘why’

Whether you are new to a show or have long-standing commitments to one or several industry shows, it’s helpful to behave as if every show is a ‘clean slate’, and ask: ‘Why are we investing in this show in the first place?’

Given how expensive exhibiting at or even attending a show is – and the many other ways that investment could be spent – this simple question is pivotal to your strategy for achieving specific and quantifiable goals for the show and for your business. Understanding and articulating the ‘why’ can also energise the entire experience of prepping for a trade show and focus the efforts of the diverse teams involved.

‘Why we’re at this show’ can link to:

  • A product launch or repositioning strategy
  • A branding initiative
  • A ground-breaking innovation or organisational announcement
  • Booked meetings and the corresponding sales expectations
  • The likelihood of expanding your prospect list by X percent
  • The halo effect of being at a prestigious show, the biggest show, the ‘signature’ show
  • Competitive considerations/competitive intelligence
  • All or none of the above.

‘We go to this show because we’ve always gone to this show’ is not a valid ‘why.’ If you cannot attribute positive ROI to the ‘whys’ you’ve identified and the investment you will make in time, people, booth creation and setup, T&E and all related expenses, then press the pause button.

Step two: Define the ‘who’

Owning the floor can only happen when you own your specific target audience at that show and you’ve identified who from your organisation will best fulfill on the business mission of the show.

For your target audience:

  • Recap the types/titles/level of people expected to attend the show, which you can get from the show organisers, your sales rep if you are a sponsor or have booth space, or on the show’s website.
  • Match up the macro attendee profile with the ideal and exact micro audience(s) whom you want to engage. Try to quantify with a number so you understand how many people fit your target audience profile, because only a subset of the larger audience are the people you hope to engage.
  • Be prepared to have multiple targets at the same show. As an example, my agency often attends big home building/construction and design shows for our clients.  Within the broad audience attending the biggest shows, we have four micro-audience targets: builders, contractors, distributors and architects. Each audience is interested in – and motivated by – very different things.

In terms of who from your organisation should attend, only send people who know the product and the prospects, and will ‘work the show’ enthusiastically, including putting in their shifts at a booth or, virtually, at the virtual booth or networking room. It’s disheartening to see sales reps or other team members at the booth who so obviously do not want to participate in a trade show day and come out only for the E part of T&E. Leave them back at the office.

Step three: Bring on the ‘what’

The more you know about and understand your target audience(s), the faster you’ll get to the ‘what.’ ‘What’ has to do with the reasons that people – your target audiences – attend, and what the company and attending staff can do to engage with them. 

For your target audiences, identify the following:

  • What their goals are for attending the show
  • What they expect from exhibitors
  • In their daily jobs, what their needs are – met and unmet
  • The best ways to communicate with them at the show and post show
  • The best booth draws, promotions and experiences that demonstrate the brand and tell the brand story.

For the company and the staff attending, identify the following:

  • What the goals are for this show in quantifiable terms
  • What resources are needed to reach those goals
  • What the staff roles are at the show and a structure for the days
  • What the best way is to align target audience goals with your goals for the show
  • Given who you want to engage, what is the one idea or communication concept that you want people who come to your booth – or meet you virtually – to come away with? And how do you show that?
  •  What the best way is to capture data at the show.

Step four: Wow with the ‘how’

For many companies, owning the show is manifested by how a company or brand is visualised and experienced on the floor via creative deliverables. ‘How’ has to do with the design of a booth, its size and presence, how the graphics are positioned, the use of video, key messaging, collateral and how people are drawn in and then engaged. In virtual trade show and conference platforms, there can be options for video, live chat, virtual booth spaces, networking rooms and other canvases for compelling creative messaging.

And it’s true that all of these things can have a big wow factor, which is important on trade show floors, or in virtual trade show platforms, where standing out does indeed have worth and impact.

The ‘how’ should also include PR, social media and paid media strategies.

PR is key to introducing new products or securing a press event on the trade show floor – what we call ‘buzz at the booth,’ including arranging media interviews with key executives who attend the show.  Social media is playing an increasingly important role pre, during and post show – both for live and virtual events. It’s in the moment and a great way to engage with attendees and deliver brand messaging via a compelling channel.

Lastly, paid media – especially programmatic media – has proven to be quite efficient in serving messaging to people inside of a geographically bordered trade show space, or to highly specific B2B audience targets attending a live or virtual event within a specific timeframe.

Owning the trade show floor requires strategic planning and ROI focus whether that show is live and in-person, or virtual. Trade shows are a big investment. Take the time to think those investments through carefully and with a critical eye. And now – with virtual events currently at the forefront – you can evaluate those experiences with a perspective we did not have even six months ago.

Download this comprehensive

Trade Show Guide

for planning your next trade show.

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