Exhibiting at a conference? Here’s how to get started. We pulled together our best tips for success and a fool proof timeline to work towards.
5 tips for nailing the conference circuit
Conferences. The word is either going to fill you with excitement or dread, depending on which side of the stalls you stand. You’ll either be excited about all the free stuff up for grabs or stressed because said free stuff didn’t arrive in time.
This year we took advantage of post-COVID programming and had the pleasure of exhibiting at Accountex, NACFB and Xerocon. Which was our favourite? That’s a secret we’ll never tell.
We’ve put together a list of where to start when prepping to exhibit. Think of this as the master to-do list from someone who’s been through the trenches and dealt with all sides of success and the inevitable fallout.
1. Prepare, prepare, PREPARE, then prepare for everything to fall through
It sounds obvious, and should go without saying, but when it comes to conferences you can never be too organised. As with all time-sensitive deadlines, there can never be too much lead time. Most conference organisers will reach out either at the event or a month or two afterwards to confirm your rebooking for the following year. This allows plenty of time not only to prepare (prepare, prepare) but to apply your learnings from the previous year.
With 6-12 months to go:
Confirm who leads what in the planning process: who is attending, who is managing the budget, who is ensuring everything is delivered on time?
Choose which marketing materials (leaflets, business cards, emails, social media posts) you want and create templates ready for details accurate to the time of release
Finalise the conference budget: what needs more money and where can costs be cut?
At 2-6 months away:
It’s time to think about what you’re going to give away. Pens, t-shirts, mugs, water bottles, hand sanitizer – there’s no limit to what can be branded.
Which leads us to design. Depending on the item, it might around for a while so make it attractive!
Once that’s finalised, it’s time to order your swag. Allow plenty of time for late deliveries and missed design deadlines (harder to avoid than you’d think…)
Mock up designs to be shared with the relevant stakeholders for sign off
Are you keeping to budget? When you’re ordering and branding your attractions is an important time to check in!
Check in with the attending team, sort out your back up attendees, make sure all the forms have been completed (aside from attendee forms, there might be Health & Safety agreements)
If you've booked it, make sure your adveritising is ready for the conferece marketing
With 1 month to go:
Finalise and order any printed collateral you’ll be handing out. This could be product brochures, handbooks, business cards or leaflets. It’s your last chance to check for spelling errors and make sure all the facts are accurate and easy to digest!
Triple check your stall details. Are there any outstanding payments to be made? Have you got the right furniture? Is there storage?
Make sure everyone attending knows when they’ll need to be there. You could even share the schedule and start booking transport for those from coming out of town
Now is a great time to set targets to measure ROI - you want to make sure you get your money's worth.
Create a commms plan: create a schedule for social media posts and marketing. People need to know you'll be there!
The week of:
Everyone attending should have the schedule and know when they need to be there. Some conferences have strict entry rules.
Circulate an event dossier with everything the onsite team needs to know. For example: exhibitor arrival times, where to collect their badges, scanners and anything else that’s part of the package, onsite contact details,anything to do with external contractors: names and contact details, set up and removal times (often this is led by the conference organiser) as well as what they are providing
If you have specific clothing or a dress code for the big day, ensure everyone is aware and has the right clothing in the right size
Confirm whether someone needs to attend the set up days or collect scanners
Get posting on social media to let your network know you'll be there. It's always helpful to mention which stall you are and who will be going
Check your Event Bible (read on to find out what that is): are the contact details up to date? How about the schedule? Remember, this is the document that could save the day!
The big day!
Make sure the attending team know the strategy to achieve their targets.
If people are swapping over a two-day event make sure all attendees have their tickets and are across the plan for the switch.
Ensure the team are across what needs to be left behind and what needs to be brought back.
Honestly, it’s too late now for major changes -- just turn up and have a good time!
2. Create a conference planning Bible
Start a planning and execution document as soon as the process begins. The goal is to produce a document that covers all and any instructions or dilemmas: a one-stop shop for troubleshooting. This means that if anything does go wrong, anyone from the business can pick up what needs to be finalised.
In a smaller business, the events team could be just one person leading across all moving parts. They might be the sole contact for external contractors, event organisers, the swag production company and anything else related to the conference.
If they’re the person in charge of setting or packing up the stall when the big day (or days) comes, the instructions in this master document need to be crystal clear. Include images where it’s helpful and keep your directions clear and to the point. You’ll also need the name and contact details of anyone and everyone involved, including any onsite event contacts, contractor details, internal stakeholders (colleagues attending the event, and any in reserve – trust us, you’ll want back-ups on standby).
3. Have a solid strategy
Exhibiting at a conference usually costs a small fortune. A small-medium stall alone will often set you back upwards of £6-10K. In many cases, that’s before furniture, design, backdrops, giveaways and sustenance on the day have been factored. To get your money’s worth, it’s really important to have a strategy with measurable outcomes. Think: Why are you there and what are your targets? How many people do you want to speak to? How many email addresses do you need to get? What does success look like?
A great place to start is the list of scanned leads. You’ve probably paid a few hundred quid for your data scanners so make them work hard! Gone are the days of the clunky clipboard with a pen that’s always missing. Collecting data is as simple as scanning a badge.
Conferences are all about networking and attendees are happy to have a chat and have their badge scanned. Be optimistic about how many genuine leads you can collect. Make sure the representing team is fully briefed on what you’re communicating and has rehearsed the answers to as many potential questions as possible. No one likes to be put on the spot.
4. Pre & post-conference marketing
This could have been included in point 3, but we think it’s so important it deserves its own section. When it comes to pre-event marketing, you’re letting people know you’re attending, which stand you’re at and what they might find there. This could be which products you’re pushing, the swag you’re giving away, who from your company is attending (make sure they’re sharing with their networks!), or the exciting game/lure/consumable you'll have.
And when it’s all over? Post-conference marketing. You’ve got your (hopefully extensive) list of scanned leads, now you need them hooked and wanting more. Make sure that post-event marketing is engaging, expands on your conference messaging and includes a call-to-action. This could be a click-through to learn more or details to book a follow-up meeting.
This way, you can measure your ROI (return on investment). Was it worth all that effort? Which conversations and sales came as a result of active leads? What percentage of scanned leads were engaged enough to interact with the post-conference marketing? If the answer is ‘not many’, you know what you need to do for next year!
5. Enjoy yourself!
It’s not all about being stressed about preparation. Conferences are a great vehicle for connecting and reconnecting with people in your industry. These events are about visibility for all attendees, so ensure you make time to meet some new people, catch-up and maybe even collect the odd pen or T-shirt along the way…
If you didn’t make it to Accountex, NACFB or Xerocon and want to know what you missed, you can chat to a member of the Partnerships Team to see what we can do for you.