5 things I wish I knew before exhibiting…

With an event as complicated and fast-paced as the exhibition, no number of internet guides is sufficient to truly prepare you for its reality. Turning up and partaking of the exhibition’s theatrics is the only way to grow accustomed to this unique business/social event, in which so much happens in so little time. With that said, preparation prior to the exhibition is key — it will set your mind at ease, reduce the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed, and enable you to capitalize on more of the potential surrounding you. Here are 5 key points I wish some divine messenger had delivered to me prior to that fateful, first exhibition.

You have something people want

First-time exhibitors representing their company often feel like imposters. Rather than a collection of interested parties, they see a mass of attendees that, in their mind, have no interest in buying from them, and will require a Shakespearean-level speech simply to be persuaded to stop and chat. It is important to get over this initial trepidation as soon as possible. You’re not manipulating anyone — many (if not most) that come to the exhibition are prospective buyers that want to do business with a company like yours. You have just as much right as the next business to be present and promoting your company. Rather than coaxing uncertain buyers, you’re making interested buyers’ lives easier by calling their attention to you. They may well be grateful that you addressed them and broke the ice, enabling them to make the purchase they came to make.

Fancy colors don’t secure leads

Stand design is one of the easier, more exciting phases of the exhibition. Building an eye-catching visual structure that encapsulates your business and communicates something to buyers is a fun exercise most would like to get involved in. But if you’re side-by-side with another results-driven, lead-targeting competitor, it won’t matter how soothing your stand’s shade of aquamarine is if you can’t engage buyers as well. Your competitor may not have the most art gallery-worthy stand, but if their staff is actively communicating with passers-by, they will be attracting more attention. You, meanwhile, are left all alone, grumbling to yourself that you should have used the lighter shade of teal that your colleague suggested.

There is no doubt that the first battle is a visual one. Whose stand looks the most professional, the most indicative of a serious, ambitious business marketing itself well. But the victors of that battle aren’t guaranteed to win the next, which is the field of consumer engagement. An exhibition, like any sales venture, is rooted in human interaction, and having a hard-working, friendly team of staff manning the stand is key to exhibition success.

All about follow-up

When it comes to following up your leads and cashing in the tokens you worked so hard to acquire, you want to make sure you have all the proper groundwork laid to make your life easier. Any notes you can take during the exhibition describing your interaction with the buyer, any specific comments they made you can refer back to, and of course *correct* contact information, will be invaluable material. Jotting down notes and following up leads may not be as sexy as designing an artistic stand, but that’s where the money is, and it’s the whole reason you built the stand in the first place. Bear that in mind during the exhibition itself — don’t miss any leads because you forgot to gather the necessary details in the heat of the moment.

Refrain from self-flagellation

Much like the penitents of medieval monasteries, some exhibition staff may feel inclined to berate themselves when things don’t quite go as planned. Perhaps a conversation with an interested client tapered off for some reason, or you were tidying up your stand when you let a group of potential buyers walk past. But rather than brandish your favorite cane and set to work on the skin of your back, acknowledge that these incidents are to some degree inevitable, and simply let these things slide so you can focus on the task before you.

Good promotion breeds confidence

While your team will have to be actively working to engage buyers on the day, they are still human, and will ultimately be dispirited if a sea of attendees rolls on by without so much as a glance in your stand’s direction. This will set a low tone for the rest of the event. Good promotion, distributed via any and all channels at your disposal (consider, for example, using the official social media pages of the exhibition organizer) will attract buyers to your stand without staff having to lift so much as a finger. It should not be underestimated how much of an energy boost this will be to your team, who have already tasted success, and will then do their best to earn more.

There’s no way around it — your first exhibition will be frantic. Even seasoned veterans can find themselves struggling, overwhelmed by a slew of difficulties that arose at the last minute. Alan Jenkins of exhibition contractor Quadrant2Design comments, ‘I can count on one hand the number of times an employee has aced their first exhibition with no hiccups. Put simply, it’s supposed to be challenging, and most have to work to gradually develop their skillset as they progress.” However, going into the exhibition with a mentality that allows for errors, and is prepared to deal with them one by one, will keep your stress levels from skyrocketing when the going gets tough. The exhibition is a timed event, so some stress is inevitable (and necessary), but maintaining a cool head in the face of that stress is how you’ll get the most out of the event, and feel good about yourself afterwards.


Theo Reilly is an independent writer and multilingual translator whose goal is to counteract stale writing in business blogs. Theo has particular interest in business and marketing-related matters surrounding the online world, web design, exhibitions and events.

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