How to Work a Trade Show - Part 1


How to Work a Trade Show – Part 1



Bob Maksimchuk, Principal Consultant

Project Pragmatics, LLC


Last summer, a consultant colleague of mine told me he was going to be a speaker at an agile development conference.  This was his first conference as an attendee and his first as a speaker.  He was concerned that he not waste this opportunity for networking and for marketing his services, but was unsure where to start.  How could he make the most of this opportunity?


Given the high level of unemployment and stagnant economy in the US and since many people are turning to consulting to “fill the gap” as they look for more permanent employment, I though that my friend is probably not the only person who has not had to overtly market their skills.  Regarding trade shows, I have attended and spoken at many, on both sides of the “booth” - - as a practitioner and as a former vendor.  So I though I’d share with a larger audience some of the answers to his specific questions and other basic ideas I gave my friend.  Hopefully, they might help others also, whether they are employees or consultants.


There are three (overlapping) viewpoints that these ideas fall within:  the attendee, the speaker, and talking with vendors.


As an Attendee
1.  Should I have business cards?  Yes indeed you should have business cards.  If you can have them professionally printed, that’s great.  If you cannot, with today’s home printers and blank business card stock, you can create a reasonable card on your own. 
Beside all your mandatory contact information, have a good marketing "tag line" on your card, because after conferences people take home many business cards and they may not remember who does what if the cards do not remind them.


If your company does not provide business cards or if they do not allow you to use the company logo, no problem. Just get / create a “contact card” which contains the same information as a business card minus any company affiliation.
2.  Have your “elevator pitch” polished and ready. Don't just write one. Speak it aloud. Sometime pitches that look good on paper do not come across well verbally. Doing this will force you to think about your competitive differentiator. Butwill force you to think about your competitive differentiator.  But don’t stop there.  Elevator pitches are so cliché, some people will immediately turn off or even not understand them if they are not familiar with your specific business niche.  Can you condense your elevator pitch to one sentence, with minimal technical language, that clearly explains the benefit you provide to your stakeholders?  (This may even become your tag line.)
The best example I have heard is a management consulting firm’s CEO who answers the question “So, what do you do?” with (paraphrased) “I give CIOs the courage to make the changes they know they need to make.”  Nice.  This leads to the next tip.
3.   Be memorable.  Figure out some way to make sure people remember you (in a positive way).  A unique business card.  Or some memorable phase as in the above example that you use in conversation, on your business card, or in your presentation.   Politicians and advertisers are good at this.  What’s your sound bite?  Learn from the pros.  There is a solicitor who visits my neighborhood occasionally.  He is a very nice person with a good message, but he has a very unusual name that was difficult to remember.  That is, until he told me the story of when he was a child how his mother (who had a very prominent accent) used to call out his name in the neighborhood.  I never forgot his name thereafter.
As a Presenter
4.  You should have one slide at the beginning of the presentation that introduces who you are, what you do, and so forth.  Many people are uncomfortable doing this.  They are uncomfortable with self promotion.  However, a slide like this is helpful to your audience in two ways: 1.) After the conference, this will help them remember who you are and 2.) This gives you the opportunity to explain briefly where you are coming from and your point of view.  If the audience members firmly disagree with your point of view, qualifications, or color of your shirt, they find out at the beginning and don’t waste time at your presentation. 


Plus the additional benefit for you, after you have briefly introduced yourself, is this gives you the opportunity to ask the audience about themselves.  (Know your audience.)  Ask questions of them that are relative to your presentation topic.  For example: “How many of you have worked on agile projects?”  “How is a certain technique working for you?”   “Do you use modeling on your projects?”  Getting to know your audience helps you learn how to make your presentation meaningful for them.

5.  If you really want to spend some extra time marketing, can you write a short "whitepaper" related to your presentation topic?  Then during the
presentation you mention that if anyone is interested, you have a paper on this interesting topic.  Have them provide their email to you and
you will send them a copy. (Remember to include in this whitepaper all your contact information.  Maybe you also send along a marketing piece that promotes your services).  


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article where I discuss ending your presentation, what to do afterwards, and the most fun part - talking with vendors.





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