As a marketing or events manager, you know that planning a successful corporate event takes work. It’s important to consider your goals, your target audience, and your location when planning a corporate conference or trade show.
Most importantly, trade show producers must keep two key audiences in mind — the attendees and the exhibitors. Take care of each by providing a meaningful experience and the right connections to help both conference goers and sponsoring businesses get the most out of it. From the informational messaging, to the custom promotional items, to the trade show giveaways at the event itself - consider what you’re offering to both exhibitors and attendees, and know why it’s of value to each group.
If you plan to produce a trade show or corporate conference, here are some key steps to follow for a successful event.
Determine your goals
Trade shows and conferences can be excellent opportunities to network with others in the industry, share ideas and insights, and exchange information for future business transactions. They provide opportunities to learn about new products or services and meet prospective customers, influencers, or even competitors face-to-face. Make the most of these opportunities by knowing your goals in advance. Here are some questions that can spur inspiration:
- Are you looking to create awareness around a particular issue?
- Do you want to gain more leads?
- Are you hoping to form customer relationships?
- Do you want to establish a position of leadership in the marketplace?
- How will your conference or trade show be different or valuable?
It helps to have some structure and a solid foundation for why your trade show or conference is important and how it will bring value. Look for underserved niches in the market, new industry developments that need explanations, or opportunities to reach key influencers or buyers in the market.
Choose a suitable venue
- In which city will you host your event? Will you stay close to home, or book a venue in another state? In 2015, Orlando was the country’s most popular meeting destination, followed closely by Las Vegas and Chicago. Consider that convention center rules and regulations may differ from state to state.
- Are there nearby hotels and lodging? Are there ample rooms for out-of-towners? Will you partner with any hotels to offer a discounted stay rate?
- Will you need extra security? Depending on your location or industry, you may need to hire security or event management personnel.
Consider that booking a location with ample lodging, culturally activities, and networking opportunities can help sell an event to potential sponsors or participants.
When you first prepare for your trade show or conference, it’s important to know your audience — including both sponsors and attendees. Do you want to reach technophiles or potential investors? Small business owners in your industry, or prospective customers? Determine who you want as exhibitors at booths, who you might want to give keynote talks, and who will help promote your message and vision.
It all starts with marketing your message. Devise a campaign to reach your attendees in a way that resonates with them, such as paper flyers, personal invitations, social media groups, direct mail, or even customized promotional items. Knowing who you want at the conference and why you want them there can help direct your messaging efforts.
Even before your event, you can generate interest with desirable swag. Consider custom promotional items that you can give away to everyone who registers, or to give as thank-yous to your sponsors. These types of items can incentivize attendees to come and explore the trade show and learn more about your company as the host, and provide a perk for exhibitors who buy a spot on the floor. Business promotional items like this don’t need to be expensive, since branded discount office supplies can still have value, but they should be meaningful, useful, or cool in some way. Here are some trade show giveaway ideas:
- Personalized clipboards are nice giveaways for your exhibitors, since they provide a portable, solid surface for gathering contact information from attendees.
- Custom lanyards are ideal for conferences, giving people a handy way to attach their name tags for easy name recognition and networking opportunities during the event. Send these out with registration packets, or make them available for pick-up at the start of the event.
- Personalized pens are useful, cheap promotional items and a must for conferences. Pair them with personalized notepads or custom sticky notes with your logo to keep your company top of mind while attendees write notes or make new connections.
- Custom flash drives are a great way of storing and distributing lots of information without printing off reams of paper handouts. Load these with media kits or product information and give them to journalists or attendees who want to learn more about your business.
Another idea is to inspire attention and sign-ups with bigger, flashier giveaways that people can win through contests or games. This might include something like a classy custom cutting board or a quality custom luggage bag — something you won’t give away to everyone, but something that garners more interest and engagement.
One hospitality company reports that technology — namely, adequate Wifi — is more important than ever at corporate conferences and trade shows. From the very beginning, market your event as tech-savvy by offering things like online registration or informational videos, and consider posting articles, teasers, and community-focused messaging on social media leading up to the event.
At the conference itself, be sure to offer charging stations and WiFi for all users, and consider promoting a trade show hashtag for people to use when posting and searching for updates, information, or exhibitors. You could even create a trade show app with up-to-date presentation schedules, FAQs about parking or amenities, mobile surveys or contests, and more.
When preparing to produce a trade show or corporate conference, there’s a lot to consider. By thinking ahead, choosing promotional items wisely, and incorporating technology into your event messaging, you can provide a meaningful experience and make valuable connections for the future.