Your essential guide to planning and attending an exhibition!

Anyone and everyone who’s serious in the healthcare IT vendor community will be exhibiting and/or speaking next week at the industry’s leading conference and expo EHI Live.  Even Highland Marketing is putting the final touches to its stand (C74) for this year’s event.  As well as supporting our clients at EHI Live, we too have our floor space booked and ready to fill before the doors open and a plethora of innovative and staple solutions and services will be on show to the NHS.  So, given I am charged with HM’s stand and having done them for a good many years prior ( I calculated I have project managed in excess of 100 events over my 16 year career to date) that perhaps I could share with you some top tips for exhibiting – noting that I will have learnt the hard way in some instances!

I’ll start by sharing the following Dilbert cartoons, which have been pinned to the wall of every office I have sat in since I tackled my very first exhibition – all those years ago! Oh how times have changed – the suggestion of ‘booth babes’ would probably have you up in front of HR these days mind you!

  1. Get the right position
    Don’t just take any old stand space, think about your location! Face forward into the hall wherever possible. Think about footfall and how visitors are likely to navigate the hall or a room. The front of the hall is not necessarily the best, people need refreshments so facing this area is a good move – people can look at you while they’re enjoying a coffee or lunch! En route to the conference hall or near a best practice show case area/theatre is also good to consider!
  2. Shop Window
    Your exhibition stand is your shop window.  People will browse, perhaps have a demo.  Visitors to exhibitions attend to learn, investigate options, gather information; they’re not there for a hard sell. Your shop window is there to entice, raise awareness and generate contacts and leads. Make sure you’re prepared to collect your visitors’ details and be sure to pass those details on to your sales team immediately after an event and ensure they follow-up with them within 2 days, otherwise you’ll be forgotten. Keep your contacts and leads warm by adding them to your database and sending them newsletters and inviting them along to your own seminars if you plan to hold them.
  3. Window dressing
    Irrelevant as to whether you have 10×10 bespoke built stand or 3×2 shell scheme – spend time planning how it will look. Small done well can be as effective as big and expensive looking. Remember big space, that’s not filled properly will look sparse and unprofessional and will often then look empty – not a good look! But equally don’t fill it with uncoordinated hired furniture. Talk to an exhibition contractor, often they can be as cost effective as hiring lots of equipment and they’ll ensure a co-ordinated look (and take care of all the risk and method statements, electricity ordering, health and safety etc)!
    Be crisp and clean and have simple messages – don’t crowd your stand with lots of bullet points thinking you need to communicate everything on your walls – people won’t read them. A key word or simple message is what will trigger interest and pull people towards you. You can communicate your bullet points verbally once you get talking!
  4. Impressions count!
    You have a matter of seconds to make the right impression. Too many staff on the stand can look unapproachable but an unmanned stand is even worse!  You’ll have invested real money to attend this event so don’t spoil it by being untidy. Laptop bags and coats should be stored in the cloakrooms not lined up along the back wall or under a desk (if you don’t have space for a storeroom on your stand).  Hide trailing cables where possible too! Don’t eat lunch on the stand – your next customer could be about to drop by – chomping on a plate of Lasagne is not a good introduction to you and your company! Don’t take calls on your stand – again you look unapproachable – if the call is urgent, step away from the stand and have a colleague man things until you can return – otherwise silence your phone!
  5. Don’t make your exhibition stand an island
    Don’t look at event participation in isolation from your other activities. Remember the press often attend your events too to find out what vendors are doing as well as to hear conference speakers. They have publications to fill….why not be one of their good news stories. An event is often a good place to launch a new product or service – issue a press release and request interviews with journalists who will be attending! Equally, arrange to meet existing customers at your stand for upsell/cross sell opportunities and networking and of course contact your existing pipeline of leads – arrange to meet with them there too. And make use of those all important social media channels to let your follows/connections know you’ll be there!

I could continue with another few pages on this topic – don’t get me started on overseas expos! With that, I must now dash – I have highland cattle to prepare (and I do actually mean this literally…..!!) For those attending this year’s EHI Live, drop by our stand and you’ll see exactly what I mean!

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