Preparing for a Conference... As a Vendor

In just over two weeks, I will be attending my first conference as a vendor.  Since I’ve spent the last few months preparing my booth and my strategies, I want to share my experience with others out there who might have just signed up for their first vendor experience or will sign up sometime in the future.  I searched for a valuable resource, a one-stop-shop, that would give me pointers, advice, and direction.  I settled for multiple resources and just pieced together my own guide.  Maybe this article will be that one-stop-resource for someone else.

Sign Up

My first step was to sign up for the conference as a vendor provider.  It’s important to read through all of the fine print before signing up.  For example, for the conference I’m attending, there are strict rules on sharing booth space, proper etiquette in the vendor hall, and available space and materials.  There are typically tiers of “sponsorship” for the event, so you’ll want to research available slots and make decisions before signing up.

If you are able to choose and reserve a booth location, think about entrances, exits, bathrooms, coffee stations, refreshment tables, flow of attendees, etc.  If you can determine where other vendors are located, you might also strategically place yourself next to a particular one or, conversely, intentionally stay away from a particular vendor.

Request a list of the attendees and their contact information.  This should be used after the event to follow up.  The whole point of your booth is to generate leads for future clients.  Don’t just attend the event, set up your booth, put out your signs, and expect everyone in attendance to call you after the event, eager to give you their money.

Make Reservations

Don’t overlook making plans for your lodging if necessary.  My conference is several hours away, so I reserved a room at the resort.  If you are able to commute or wish to stay at a different location, just be sure to consider your strategies for setting up and tearing down.  You probably don’t want to haul a bunch of stuff two blocks on foot.  For those who are flying to their destination or who simply want to make things easier, you can always ship your materials to the conference location.  For my conference, this is being handled 100% by the resort.

Make a Plan

Place yourself in the shoes of the conference attendees.  Who is your target audience?  What are you offering and how can you best put it on display?  Are you going to have give aways?  If so, what kind?  Are you going to have an interactive game?  Candy?  What other materials do you need to make available to attendees?  Think business cards, brochures, informational packets, banners, etc.

When it comes to give aways, think original but also useful.  You don’t want to give something away that is just going to be thrown away in the hotel trash can.  Everybody does pens.  Don’t do what everybody else is doing, but if you’re going to give away pens, at least make your pen stand out.  Don’t just order a bunch of cheap pens with your logo or business name on them.  Really brainstorm here.  It will pay off in the end.

Don’t neglect all of the technical stuff you might need such as tape, scissors, post its, pens, water, stapler, sharpie, extension cords, paper clips, highlighter, power strip, multi tool, or anything else you should keep on hand for the “just in case”.

Order Materials

Be sure to order your materials as far out from the conference as possible.  You might have to reorder materials if they are shipped to you in the wrong quantity or perhaps have a manufacturer defect.  Don’t order your products two weeks beforehand, only to discover they are back-ordered and won’t arrive until three days AFTER the conference.

It’s tough to figure out how many of each item to have on hand at the conference.  It’s better to have too many than to run out.  The best rule of thumb I found is to plan for 25% of attendees to stop by your booth if the event has less than 2,000 attendees and 75% for over 2,000 attendees.

The Presentation

Just last week, I got out all of my materials I plan on taking to the conference and set up a mock booth in my home office.  I wanted to see what it all looked like together.  I needed to figure out where things should be placed on the table, what I was missing, and if I had too little or too much.  I would highly recommend to never skip this step.

Perfect your elevator pitch.  You will only have 30 seconds with many of the conference attendees.  Figure out what needs to be said in those 30 seconds and make them count.  First impressions are everything.

Decide on conference attire well before it’s time to pack and head out.  For some, it might be prudent to dress in business attire.  For others, perhaps business casual will do.  Either wear name tags with your logo, business, and name on them or have some shirts embroidered with your business name and logo.

Advertise the Event

If you have a website and/or social media, advertise the upcoming event to your friends and followers.  Tell them you’re going to be there.  Tell them about your booth.  Tell them about your give aways.  Advertise your booth number.

Continue making announcements on social media during the event.  If the conference is using hashtags, find out what they are and use them.

In a few weeks, I’ll follow up on lessons I learned as a first-time vendor.