By Jacquelyn La Favor, AEM Attendee Acquisition VIP Program Manager

When it comes to getting the most out of investments of time, effort and resources into trade shows, it can be difficult to know exactly where to begin. And all too often, you find yourself so caught up in the pre-show planning and logistics you end up losing sight of what really and truly matters most: meeting the needs, wants and expectations of your customers.

As the attendee acquisition manager for VIP programs for AEM’s trade shows, my job affords me the unique opportunity to listen to and learn from equipment end users about what they are looking for from their time spent on and around the show floor. Based on my pre-show outreach with prospective customers, my on-site interactions and the post-show surveys I’ve conducted, I’ve been able to gather a few pieces of advice from show attendees that may come in handy as you plan for your upcoming show cycles:

1. Focus on the new. – Time is at a premium on the trade show floor, and show attendees often find themselves quite busy. So it’s critically important for you to make new technological developments, innovations and product offerings focal points of your exhibit area. Anything you can share about the latest tech trends and how they can help equipment end users be more efficient will definitely hold the attention of show attendees and make them willing to spend more of their valuable time in your booth.

2. Understand attendees who are in the market to buy want to shop around. – Trade shows offer a unique opportunity for attendees to see several equipment manufacturers all in one place. With that fact in mind, you need to make sure your booth staff is ready, willing and able to share key competitive differentiators that give your company an edge over your fellow exhibitors. And always remember, their next stop at the show may be at your competitor’s booth. 

3. Demonstrate your equipment or product. – Nothing gets the attention of equipment end users better than seeing a machine or other product up close or in action, so take the time to get attendees actively engaged in your equipment or offering. Be sure to highlight and explain its key features, demo it when possible, and be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information.

4. Staff your booth at all times. – Sadly, I’ve heard from some attendees who have stopped by at trade show booths, only to find no one present from the exhibiting company. That just can’t happen. It’s a huge missed opportunity to improve the return on an investment in a show, and it reflects poorly on you as an exhibitor.

5. Support networking. – Attendees are often so busy walking the floor, they don’t always get an opportunity to network with their peers. Facilitating opportunities for networking can go a long way toward delivering a memorable attendee experience. These networking events don’t need to be elaborate or expensive, and they can be held outside your booth during non-show hours. Even something that doesn’t require a significant amount of planning -- like a small dinner group outing, for example -- can yield lasting connections between industry professionals.

There’s so much to think about when planning for your next trade show. You need to develop a well-conceived trade show strategy, deal with logistics, position your company to meet exhibition-related goals and secure a return on your investment in the event.

But in order to truly get the most out of your trade show experience, you need to start with your customers in mind. More importantly, though, you need to be able to definitively answer one important question:

What do your customers want from their investment of time in a show?

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