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5 Supplier Hacks for Trade Shows

By Hugo Hellberg, CMM, CMP

I’ve had the pleasure of serving the meetings and events industry for more than 15 years and attended the Meetings Industry Council (MIC) of Colorado Educational Conference & Trade Show as a planner from 2010-2017. This past year was the first time I participated as a supplier, and I learned pretty quickly that it’s extremely valuable to have experienced both sides. It gave me an appreciation of the roles we all play and a better understanding of the flow of information.

This conference is known for designing an engaging experience for all participants. The 2018 gathering was another great example of how you can plan a trade show with high energy while maximizing the value for both suppliers and planners. I’ve identified the following five hacks to help improve the experience for exhibiting companies and increase their return on investment at any conference.

Focus on smart networking

» Build trust among your clients and prospects by having a nonsalesy approach. Your clients/prospects are much more likely to be interested in your product or service if you take the time to first listen to their story.

» The networking expands beyond the on-site interactions. If possible, start the conversation with attendees before the show. And there’s no excuse to not continue the conversation after the show since you should have a list of quality leads by then. At the very least, send a personalized thank you email/letter, and if someone you met is local, schedule follow-up coffee meetings.

» Find an efficient way to collect leads onsite, ideally one that is built into your booth activity. Reach out to the event organizer to see what leads tools they’re offering.

» Network outside your booth. Attending sessions and functions provides a valuable opportunity to network in a more casual and nonsalesy way.

» Host your own event(s) during the show, such as receptions and breakfasts, but avoid competing with events already included in conference schedule.

Knows the audience

» Most exhibiting companies can increase their ROI by bringing staff that can relate to the audience and effectively engage with them.

» Invest time in educating booth staff. Reach out to the event organizer to see what resources they have.

» First impressions last. It goes without saying that booth staff needs to act professionally inside and outside the booth. The way staff interacts with attendees determines how your brand is perceived.

Design an interactive booth 

» Offer an activity and/or giveaway that creates a buzz and brings more attendees to your booth.

» In addition to the booth space investment, you should include a generous budget line item for this activity/giveaway.

» Ask the event organizer for advice, and they’ll usually be happy to share strategies and best practices.

Get educated while attending

» It’s critical from a supplier’s perspective to stay up to date on planners’ trends, issues, challenges and opportunities. This makes it easier to relate to their pain points, and you’ll be in a better position to offer a strong value proposition.

Work as a team

» One of the biggest mistakes is to engage with booth staff only the day(s) of the show. 


» Have more staff at our booth to make sure we can take advantage of attending sessions. It’s a great opportunity to casually network with clients and prospects. 

» Plan our own schedule better to stay energized during the entire show.

» Schedule more one-on-one meetings with attendees during the conference. 

» Schedule at least two pre-event meetings and at least one post-event meeting with all booth staff and invite them to be a part of the entire planning process. 

» Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) with your team.

» Research and identify the show’s goals and audience.

» Become familiar with the show’s schedule and flow of attendees, so you’re prepared for the high and low traffic times.

» Well in advance, set up the structure and tools for collecting leads, importing them to a customer relationship management (CRM) platform and designing the post-event communication plan.

There’s no better way to strengthen your business than to build a strong and trusted network and ideally a community around your brand. There are few shortcuts to make this happen but attending trade shows and face-to-face events gives you a terrific ROI, when done well. When not done correctly, it can be a huge waste of money and resources. I hope to see you at the 2019 MIC of Colorado Educational Conference & Trade Show on March 12-13, 2019 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. 


Hugo Hellberg, a Denver-based entrepreneur and event strategist, is co-found of EventWaves. This new cloud-based platform helps planners collaborate, stay organized and design more powerful meetings and events.