5 top tips on how to participate in exhibitions as a visitor

by Editorial Team
10 minutes read

In the business events industry participating in exhibitions is often addressed and thought of in terms of exhibitors. There are times, however, when, exhibitors also participate from the other side of the exhibition stand counter.

These include when they attend a major conference which is accompanied by a show or when they take a break from their exhibition stand and walk around the show floor visiting other stands. One of the best ways of researching exhibitions before participating in them is visiting them to get a feel of them and learn how things go at the chosen show.

Apart from these reasons, people in business setups also visit exhibitions for different reasons such as to meet potential suppliers of goods or services which they wish to purchase. Some people visit the exhibition for personal reasons such as pre-purchase research and keeping abreast with trends in areas such as fashion.

Whatever the reasons, visitors need to do more than just travel to the event venue and pay the entry fee. Here are some top tips on how to make the most of visiting exhibitions.

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  1. Set objectives

As a visitor, you need to understand what you wish to achieve by visiting an exhibition. This requires setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound objectives. Objective-setting assists in giving a sense of purpose in the planned visit and to focus on what is important. Setting clear objectives ahead of visiting an exhibition gives a sense of direction and makes it easier to evaluate the visit.

It sometimes happens that a parent drives to a main exhibition such as the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show or the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, not because s/he had plans to but because their children enjoy the face painting or having photographs of them taken with the popular Lafarge Cement mascot. Even in such a case, one should sit down to set objectives that they can achieve by attending. In this case, the parent can achieve his own business or personal goals by visiting specific stands while satisfying his children’s entertainment goals.

Some of a business visitor’s objectives can include meeting potential suppliers and distributors to their enterprise. They can also include learning new products and developments in their industry. For a businessman or business representative visiting a show to research how it works his objectives may include establishing the range of the nature of companies which exhibit at the show, the type and quality of exhibition stands, the type of products displayed and demonstrated at the exhibition.

  1. Plan

It is good to set exhibition visit objectives but it is great to plan how to achieve them. Without a proper and practical plan to achieve objectives they may be reduced to a mere wish list.

When planning the visit it is important to write down a priority list in terms of who one wishes to meet at the show. The list can be divided into two namely: the “must-see” and the “want to see.” The same can be done with exhibition stands in line with the visit objectives. This is usually driven by the information which the visitor wants to collect. If the visitor’s top objective is to meet potential suppliers these are then listed on the “must-see” part of the list.

It is easy to spend the whole day visiting exhibition stands only to realise that one has managed to visit only three out of 10 prioritised stands on the first day of a two-day show. The problem boils down to time management. It is therefore important to plan how much time to spend at each of the targeted stands in line with their importance. Sometimes companies dispatch two or more visitors to an exhibition. If this is the case team members can share the targeted stands and agree on the time to spend at each stand to ensure that they achieve their company’s objectives. When planning time per stand it is important to take into consideration time-consuming activities such as product demonstrations.

During the planning sessions, a lead capturing form must be designed to record details of potential leads met. If lead generation is not one of the visit objectives, then the visitor can just purchase a pen and notebook to scribble any information of importance which s/he comes across during the visit.

Apart from lots of walking on the shop floor exhibition visiting can also mean lots of travel between the event venue and one’s hotel. To deal with this dilemma planning for an exhibition visit means booking for accommodation at hotels which are very close to the venue on time.

  1. Prepare

The time between planning and travelling to the exhibition should be occupied by preparations. Preparation means contacting officials from target companies with the view to schedule meeting with them during the course of the exhibition. It also means obtaining a copy of show floor plans showing the location of exhibitors to make it easy to find them during the show. During this stage, it is advisable to obtain a map of the host town or city. This is particularly important for the visitor who would be driving to the exhibition in a city or town to which they are new.

Show-going is involves clocking kilometres of walking from one stand to another at the exhibition venue and this can be energy-sapping. It can also be very demanding and uncomfortable for the executive whose daily routine is usually a drive to work, a day on the workstation chairs and another drive back home at the end of the day. To prepare for this one needs to pack comfortable clothes and shoes. For ladies, this means ditching stilettos and court shoes for walk-comfortable shoe types like pumps. As visitors choose appropriate clothing, they need to consider the season and weather at the hosting city or town and pack accordingly.

During preparation, one needs to pack a bag that can accommodate snacks and beverages such as water and juice. The same bag could be used to carry any giveaway items and useful literature collected from target companies and others of interest and importance.

  1. Engage

When visiting an exhibition as a visitor, one has to engage with other people such as stand staff, management and other key people at various stands in order to meet their objectives. At times this calls for setting meetings with target people such as potential partners, distributors and suppliers at one’s hotel for one on one engagement. This presents one’s company as serious and professional.

It often happens that during engagements with stand staff that they may not be able to answer certain questions. This may be a key question that can affect whether or not one will be able to meet their objectives. In such a scenario one is advised to press for answers and avoid being dismissed using responses like “We’ll phone you.” Where possible a visitor can offer to use his own mobile phone to contact the relevant functionary of the company who has the answer back at the company’s offices to ensure that he meets his own objectives.

It is tempting to engage in long winding conversation with stand staff or other people at the exhibition but this can waste time. Right from the outset the visitor should be upfront with the stand staff and advise them that you are pressed for time so that they will not get into long-winding and time-wasting chatter. Remember that time is of importance. Conversations that do not add value to their visit objectives only serve to eat into your time so avoid them.

A visitor needs to look for network opportunities and make the most of them. As he moves around stands and they should network with people and avoid the temptation to sell your products and services unless selling is one of their visit objectives. People need solutions to their various problems but they do not like to be sold to. The visitor should seek to build relationships instead. In any case, exhibitions are mostly about securing leads and building relations which can then be leveraged to get sales in the future.

As the visitor moves around, they should avoid just picking or accepting sales literature. One should only accept or pick literature which could contribute to their objectives or be of some use back at their company whether currently or in future.

Some exhibitions have become confexes. That means they run concurrently with a conference. If one attends a conference they should be attentive and contribute during breakaway sessions and the main sessions. This draws the attention of other attendees to them and improves the chances of them seeking them out for engagement during networking sessions. Standing out as a delegate also sells their corporate brand.

Exhibition venues especially indoor ones tend to be hot and wearying. The visitor therefore needs to drink water often and the bag referred to in the preparation comes in handy. He or she needs to take a break every three or so hours to avoid fatigue.

Popular stands tend to be overcrowded. Visitors are therefore advised to avoid them at peak hours and only visit them towards the end of the day when visitor traffic reduces. Closing times can be very hectic. To avoid the human and vehicular traffic associated with the show closing time one could leave the exhibition 30 minutes to an hour before closing time.

  1. Assess and utilise

During the course of the exhibition, one needs to constantly assess the progress they have made during the course of each day. This could mean assessing each engagement made and distilling insights that were gained therefrom and noting them. It means going through literature collected and assessing how the information it contains can be used to achieve the visit goals or some future task back at the office.

If the visitor has attended a concurrent conference or workshop he or she needs to pick out the major points from his or her notebook and write them on a clean page in preparation for his or her post-event meeting and report back at the office. Even before the event is over, the visitor needs to sort out his or her leads and contacts and prioritise them for further future engagement by way of meetings and so on.

If one uses the post-event night time at their hotel room to attend to these issues during the exhibition it makes it easier for them to prepare for their post-event update meeting and report back at work.

When the event is over and the visitor is back in the office he or she is expected to meet his or her superior and update them on the event and whether not s/he managed to meet the visit’s objectives. Where  s/he has not, reasons have to be provided to enable the company to improve in the future. He or she can then write a report which should include recommendations on how a similar undertaking can be planned, prepared for and executed in the future.

The visitor should pass the information which can be better used by other people or departments to them as soon as possible. He or she should follow up on the leads generated by setting up meetings, dispatching samples or technical teams to prospective customers who needed product demonstrations or needed technical explanations.

If the visitor’s mission was for purposes of participating in the visited exhibition as an exhibitor in future information gleaned should be noted and passed onto the exhibitions participation team for consideration and incorporation in future show participation planning.

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